Plan-It Hennepin has high hopes for the downtown thoroughfare


“We want to string together the existing pearls [on Hennepin] and add more cultural activity to make the Avenue a more inviting place,” says the website of Plan-It Hennepin, a collaboration among the Hennepin Theatre Trust, the Walker Art Center, Artspace, and the City of Minneapolis to collect ideas for the “re-invention” of Hennepin Avenue between the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and the Mississippi River.

In a video created by Plan-It Hennepin, Lee Lynch, co-founder and former CEO of downtown ad agency Carmichael Lynch Inc., links Plan-It’s mission to the revitalization of Hennepin’s theaters—which he was involved with in the 80’s.  “Carmichael Lynch chose to move down to Hennepin Avenue…[it] looked like a third world country…there was nothing here besides derelicts, boarded up buildings. People thought we were crazy.” Lynch goes on to overview his involvement with a group that worked with the city to save the downtown theater scene, which led to the renovation of the State and Orpheum theaters. “Since that time many developments have taken place—it’s bloomed and grown. It’s safe. It’s exciting.”

It’s that kind of public investment Plan-It Hennepin hopes to initiate, because of concerns that Hennepin Avenue was, as one person called it, “an uneven experience.” Over the last year, the group has collected ideas from Hennepin Avenue stakeholders, ranging from students to nonprofits, regarding what needs change and how that change might be accomplished.

On June 7 at the New Century Theatre, Plan-It Hennepin hosted its last forum in the four-part “Talk-It Hennepin” series bringing together experts of urban planning and design along with with the stakeholders. Thursday night’s session, titled “Owning Public Space: The Power of Place Identity,” featured professor and MacArthur Fellow Don Mitchell, founder and director of Thai Community Development Center and East Hollywood Thai Town Chancee Martorell, and St. Paul artist Seitu Jones.

For the approximately 35 in attendance, Martorell provided an overview of how her group created Thai Town in East Hollywood as a cultural destination, and highlighted the kinds of improvements made to the working-class community as a result. Jones gave a compelling presentation about the “importance of memory in [public] space,” which included his own memories growing up in Minneapolis and how they’ve affected his installations around the Twin Cities. Throughout he advocated for artist involvement in all public projects so that the people benefit from their form as well as functionality.

Mitchell delivered a short talk regarding the reality that planners must acknowledge there will be groups included and excluded from each public project. As a result, he said planners must ask both what and who a public space is for. He suggested that considering whose interests will be excluded from a public space allows planners to better understand what a public project’s function could and should be.

This line-up of Mitchell, Jones, and Martorell, which Plan-It’s organizers billed as a conversation to “explore creating and managing a shared, multi-ethnic urban space on Hennepin Avenue,” came during a time of a cultural shift in the Twin Cities and the stakeholders of Hennepin Avenue.

According to an April 2012 Metropolitan Council report, What Lies Ahead: Population, Household and Employment Forecasts to 2040, changes in the Twin Cities racial and ethnic make up aren’t far off. For example, by 2030, the white population ages 15-64 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region will decrease by 200,000, from 1,526,000 to 1,319,000, or by 13%. Meanwhile, the number of people of color will increase from 436,000 to 824,000—nearly doubling.

In a metro area moving towards cultural and ethnic pluralism, the mission of Plan-It Hennepin seems in line with those shifts. So then the question is: What kinds of changes will Plan-It Hennepin propose to the City Council?

Tom Borrup, principal associate of Creative Community Builders who is involved with Plan-It, said in a phone call the group has many options to try and unify the avenue. While it’s unclear how much is possible in the short term, Borrup said the absolute minimum would be “putting out the ‘No Vacancy’ sign in a symbolic way.” Borrup noted temporary solutions to help smooth the earlier mentioned perception of Hennepin as “an uneven experience,” could include storefront animation and public art.

Pleasing all those using Hennepin will prove to be quite difficult. The issues of public spaces for all, the targeted Hennepin corridor includes cultural destinations ranging from the Basilica to the Orpheum to Gay 90’s.

Though in some potential disagreement with Mitchell, Borrup insisted that Plan-It wants to focus on everyone, in part because of public transportation’s ability to get people to Hennepin. As for the Talk-It conversation, Borrup said it was very enlightening as to “how different kinds of people can claim space.”

Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Collaborative.