New historic preservation guidelines coming


When are longstanding historic preservation guidelines not good enough?

In the case of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, which takes in parts of Northeast, Southeast and downtown Minneapolis, the answer appears to be, “When they get too old.”

The City of Minneapolis received a $52,000 grant from the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board, and will put in $23,000 worth of in-kind staff services from its Community Planning and Economic Development department (CPED), to develop a new set of historic-preservation design guidelines for the riverfront area.

Local, state and national historic-preservation authorities have long had an interest in the St. Anthony Falls area, as the falls provided water power for the sawmills of the 1840s and 1850s, and the flour mills of the 1860s, that were the economic engines of the earliest settlements of the Minneapolis area.

Historically, such design guidelines have been “really a regulatory tool,” according to Brian Schaffer, a senior city planner for the City of Minneapolis. “We want to make it something larger,” he said, more of “an educational tool for historic resources.”

Once the new design guidelines are developed, they’ll face review from the State Historic Preservation Office and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. Once adopted by those agencies, they will be “used in reviewing new proposals for the area.”

The current guidelines were developed in 1980, and, according to Schaffer’s memo to the Minneapolis City Council’s Ways and Means Committee, a lot has changed since then. “Access to and interaction with the falls and the river has evolved, infrastructure has been added, project plans have been developed and realized, and the understanding and knowledge of the historic resources in the district have increased.”

“It is no longer sufficient to simply save and re-use a specific collection of historic buildings or properties. In order to create and sustain economically successful places, it has become critical to evaluate and carefully consider how entire environments function as a diverse, but unified cultural landscape.”

New guidelines, the memo states, will help developers and regulators deal with:

  • Archaeological sites and sites of specific cultural/historical significance;
  • Existing and new infrastructure; sites of specific engineering and transportation significance;
  • Natural features and open space;
  • Existing buildings and the construction of new buildings; sites of specific architectural significance.

“We’ll be looking at everything,” Schaffer said. “A lot of the historic district is archaeology…buildings and the ground. [The new] design guidelines will define what’s appropriate for alterations, and new construction,” and provide some “appropriate new designs.”

How can residents get involved? The first public meeting on the new guidelines is set for Wednesday, April 6, 6 p.m in the sixth floor conference room at Mill City Museum, 704 Second St. S. Schaffer said they will discuss “the history, what are the resources, what are the steps” involved in developing the new design guidelines.

Two more public meetings are planned, he said, to discuss vision, guiding principles, and resources in more detail.

“We’ll be getting a web page underway,” he said.

The city has contracted with a Boulder, Colorado-based historic preservation and urban design consultant, Winter & Company, to develop the guidelines. Winter will be working with a local company, Close Landscape Architecture, on the project.

Winter was chosen from among 12 firms that responded to the city’s request for proposals in December.

Schaffer’s memo states that Winter is “a national expert in the field of preservation design guidelines and recently partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to write a book entitled Developing Sustainability Guidelines for Historic Districts. In the last decade Winter & Company has been hired by numerous cities nationwide to help develop or update guidelines for their historic districts. They have a strong public participation method and cycle that CPED feels will be valuable in developing the design guidelines for the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. Likewise, Close Landscape Architecture has done several projects for the Minnesota Historical Society on various historic sites.”

Historic District Facts:

  • Boundaries: Generally bounded by Plymouth Avenue, Second Street, 10th Avenue South, Sixth Avenue SE, and University Avenue.
  • Neighborhoods: North Loop, Downtown West, Downtown East, Marcy Holmes, Nicollet Island/East Bank, St. Anthony West
  • Date of Local Historic Designation: 1971
  • Date of National Historic Designation: 1971