At the end of the year, the city-owned Upper Harbor Terminal will stop operating, ending an era that began when the site opened in 1968. The 48-acre industrial stretch on the west side of the Mississippi River between the Lowry and Camden bridges is destined for transformation in the coming years, but just what shape it will take remains up for discussion.
Planning for the Upper Harbor Terminal site is taking place within the greater context of the city’s Above the Falls Master Plan, a framework published in 2000 that has been updated over time and is meant to guide development along the North Mississippi riverfront for decades to come. Current plans for the site are to create a business park that integrates commercial development alongside green spaces that may be enjoyed by the community. The city would sell the land to businesses in an effort to create up to 1,000 jobs, many of which the city hopes will be filled by Northside residents.
Helping to drive ongoing public discussion about the site is the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership (MRP), a nonprofit dedicated to responsible revitalization of the city’s defining natural resource. The organization strives to produce data-driven research and foster communication and collaboration among public and private partners—all toward realizing development along the Upper Riverfront that is environmentally sound, economically beneficial, culturally enriching, historically edifying and accessible to the public. “It’s really important that we think of revitalization in a broad way,” says Kathleen Boe, executive director of the MRP.
Boe points to the redevelopment of Central Riverfront as an example of what responsible planning can achieve, but emphasizes that it’s important to remember that all environments “have very unique dynamics that go into them.” For instance, she notes that the Upper Mississippi River has a character that is wilder than the riverfront in Downtown Minneapolis. She noted the presence of the heron rookery and numerous other wild habitats present in the affected area.
In order to help people understand the unique elements to be considered in developing the river in North Minneapolis, the Mississippi Riverfront Partnership has planned a series community meetings addressing revitalization efforts. The first Riverfront Vitality Forum was held at the end of July, and seven panelists spoke specifically about issues involved with the Upper Harbor Terminal site.
Speakers included Linda Mack of the MRP, District 59A State Representative Joe Mullery, Gary Cunningham of the Metropolitan Council, John Anfinson of the National Park Service, Kjersti Monson and Kristin Guild of the city’s office of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), Bruce Chamberlain of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Kit Richardson of the firm Schafer Richardson.
According to Boe, “The intent with this selection of panelists was to represent a cross section of interests and views concerning the Upper Harbor Terminal.” Each person on the panel was given five minutes to speak, and community members in attendance were able to express their thoughts and concerns after. “Everyone had a dream for making this a special place,” said Boe.
Chief among the concerns voiced by community members was the lack of housing in plans to develop the site. Residential zoning has been a consistent wish among area residents in public meetings addressing Above the Falls Master Plan updates. City representatives have noted that planning took place at a time in which the Great Recession had hurt the residential market. The CPED is currently conducting a study to see whether the course outlined in the most recent update to the Above the Falls Master Plan remains the best approach or if the current economic climate might sustain housing and other uses for the site.
The Riverfront Vitality Forum was the first event in an ongoing series of public forums that will feature community stakeholders addressing different topics of specific interest connected with riverfront revitalization. People who are interested in attending future meetings can visit the MRP’s website (mississippi riverfrontpartnership.com). The site also features information on additional community outreach initiatives, including a Mississippi Minute Film Festival in which residents can submit a 60-second clip expressing their wishes for the riverfront in Minneapolis (submission deadline September 4).
The Mississippi Riverfront Partnership also plans events designed to, in Boe’s words, “get people to the river in the north part of the city and celebrate what the river can be for the community.” Last month, the organization held the second annual Riverfront Festival. More than a thousand people assembled at Sheridan Memorial Park to hear music, enjoy good food and take in a show by the Twin Cities River Rats waterskiing team. Future event details may also be found on the organization’s website.