A new vision for West Broadway

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When asked what she thinks of West Broadway Avenue, the primary commercial and transit corridor in North Minneapolis, Harrison Neighborhood resident Tina Williams admits that she never goes there. “There’s really nothing there,” said Williams. “I do all my shopping over South or in St. Paul, because there’s always so many messed-up people on the corners; they’re like walking zombies.”

Avoiding West Broadway, however, is not a reflection of her feelings for the North Side, where Williams has lived for the past eight years. She loves the convenience of living close to downtown, but she would happily support a viable neighborhood shopping district.

Williams is one of the many North Minneapolis residents who have abandoned West Broadway as a shopping destination. This trend, termed “economic leakage,” is among the challenges Tom Leighton, the city’s principle planner, intends to assess during the next year, as he begins drafting the West Broadway Alive! (WBA) plan. “The local market goes elsewhere,” explained Leighton. For reasons that need to be analyzed, the people who live in the area would rather go somewhere else. It could be that it feels unsafe or that it is unattractive.

The WBA plan is still in its beginning stages, but it will eventually serve as a strategy for activating West Broadway’s commercial district and as a guide for future developments. The impetus for the project came from the West Broadway Area Coalition (WBAC). Funding is coming from the City of Minneapolis and the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council.

Despite some neighborhood skepticism, there is reason to believe that the WBA plan will be more than just words. “In recent years, there has been a general increase in city living,” said Leighton, “and as property values have increased across Minneapolis, North Minneapolis is now the affordable choice.” West Broadway has other assets, as well, such as its close proximity to Downtown and the Mississippi River.

A common perception regarding West Broadway Avenue and North Minneapolis is that previous plans and visions for redevelopment and revitalization have never materialized. Though many plans have come and gone, this is not entirely true, noted WBAC executive director Kari Neathery, There have been some developments, such as the Target store in the 1970s and Hawthorne Crossings, a shopping center, in the mid-1990s. However, “these past developments are not in line with our current thinking,” she explained. For instance, the emphasis in planning has shifted away from automobile-oriented suburban shopping center design and toward pedestrian-friendly development.

The WBA plan will include a community-based steering committee of residents and business owners. And organizers will reach out to the community with a series of door-knockings in the surrounding neighborhoods. Even area youth will be able to participate. With the help of North High and Juxtapostion Arts, a nonprofit arts center, young people will have the opportunity to conduct and film interviews with people on the street about their attitudes and perceptions of North Minneapolis.

This WBA plan is not the only initiative underway intending to help revitalize West Broadway. In line with this initiative are numerous key developments, such as the Capri Theater renovation and the storefront at 1101 West Broadway, which is in the process of being sold by the city to developer Stuart Ackerberg. The renovated building will include a City-County Federal Credit Union office, a coffee shop, and office space for a nonprofit organization providing employment services.

Congruently, WBAC’s progress portfolio from the summer of 2004 is brimming with recent successes. Among them are Juxtapostion Arts, located at 2007 Emerson Ave. N., near the corner of West Broadway, and the Hollywood Studio of Dance, a nonprofit dance school, located at 2128 West Broadway. Efforts such as these are likely to encourage redevelopment on West Broadway, said Leighton. “Every change helps open people’s eyes to the idea that the West Broadway area is a valuable area for housing and development.”

The first public meeting for the WBA is scheduled for August 24. For more information, “click here”:http://www.wbalive.info .

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