More community involvement key to revitalization of corridor
Over the past year, representatives from the City of Minneapolis, the North Minneapolis community, and community organizations have been providing input on planning for a new West Broadway Avenue. “West Broadway Alive” is an initiative to revitalize the North Minneapolis corridor from its western city limits bordering Robbinsdale to its eastern end near the Mississippi River.
After seeing progress in other corridors of Minneapolis, Thomas Leighton, principal planner for the City of Minneapolis, says it was determined that Broadway was deserving of some attention. Like Lake Street’s Midtown Global Market, there are several places along Broadway that planners expect will serve as central meeting places both for people who live in the area and for people from outside of the community.
One such location is the southeastern corner of Broadway and Penn where the Delisi Building sits, identified as the future home of KMOJ-FM radio. Metro Transit has also bought property on which a plaza will be built between the Delisi Building and the corner.
Further east on Broadway, the Capri Theatre has launched a campaign to expand its theater space and create public space between the Capri and the Plymouth Christian Youth Center.
To serve as a sounding board for community residents and other stakeholders, the West Broadway Alive task force became a part of the planning process. Wesley Walker is one of two representatives for Mayor R.T. Rybak who co-chair the task force made up of members of neighborhood organizations bordering West Broadway.
The planning processes included six public meetings to include more community members. “There had been some complaints or concerns that there was sort of a top-down approach that the City had been taking before,” Walker says. “[West Broadway Alive] was a way to kind of look at being more intentional and involving more voices from the community.”
Walker says that through flyers, the support of community organizations, and website postings — including the City of Minneapolis’ website — the meetings were well attended and the diversity was more reflective of the community at large than has been the case in past planning initiatives.
Many of the meetings were held at the 800 West Broadway building, which will house the new YWCA. Attendance ranged from 80 to 100 people. As for the community meetings’ format, Leighton says, “We tried to make it interactive.” With wooden blocks representing new and existing development, “We asked people to go ahead and show what development they thought would make sense on a particular property.”
In an attempt to enliven the meetings, they used a nontraditional approach. This included entertainment by a drum team, a drill-and-dance team, a Peace Foundation slide show, food, and artwork by Juxtaposition Arts.
“Planning meetings are often kind of intellectual and dry,” Leighton admits. “One of [the] strategies for public engagement is to try to have interesting events to get the word out in a lot of nontraditional ways.” Street interviews were conducted in addition to the meetings, and students from a North High class had an opportunity to provide their input.
Paula Pentel grew up near North Minneapolis’ 26th and Penn Avenue. She was a 1974 North High graduate, a past president of the West Broadway Area Coalition, and she is a current member of the West Broadway Alive Steering Committee. “I’ve seen Broadway in a whole variety of ways over the years,” Pentel says, “but I think that there’s great potential there, and such great people.”
This past July, the West Broadway Area Coalition and the West Broadway Business Association merged. The new West Broadway Business Association and Area Coalition is made up of the executive directors of Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC), Jordan Area Council (JAC) and Hawthorne Area Community Council (HACC).
“Although they [the City] have done a really good job of getting public input, that’s a City-run area plan,” Pentel says. “We’re hoping that we’ll have the infrastructure in place to help do some of the implementation from the plans.”
With the YWCA coming to Broadway, the remodeling of the YMCA, and funds from the Livable Communities Grant program to redevelop “the curve,” a two-block stretch along Broadway west of Irving Avenue, Pentel says that there will be a lot of change happening on the avenue.
One of the biggest challenges to supporting a business district along Broadway Avenue is the current state of affairs in the North Minneapolis housing market. “We’ve got so many houses in foreclosure on the North Side,” Pentel says, “and you need that community there in order for businesses to market to their local community.”
Broadway has small commercial spaces that are an advantage for entrepreneurs starting new businesses. In areas where businesses are already thriving, the primary focus of a redevelopment plan is on creating development that supports the existing business environment.
“That’s not the case on a street like Broadway,” Leighton says. “…The market is not strong enough that it’s just going to happen on its own.” When redeveloping an area like Broadway, the planning must take into account where existing business are so that redevelopment doesn’t cause struggling business to fold due to new competition.
The West Broadway Alive process has brought together a group of people dedicated to a mission, Pentel says. “There’s been a real push to make sure that the community had the opportunity to become involved as much as people wanted to be… We are poised in a peaceful and collaborative way to help move the plan forward.”
Implementation, according to Leighton, will probably happen in two phases separated by road reconstruction. With the reconstruction of the avenue west of Girard Avenue to the river, there is an opportunity to widen the sidewalks and add decorative lighting and streetscaping. But this is reconstruction that observers will not see for the next six to 10 years.
Another long-term possibility is public transportation improvement. “The City has been talking about how we could serve some of our corridors with streetcars,” Leighton says. “And how can we fund that even though the state and the federal government tend not to put funding into streetcars?”
Studies have already been completed to determine the best location for a streetcar line in the city, and one of the routes would serve Broadway Avenue. Still, “They can [cost] 70, 80, 90 million dollars, and the federal match isn’t easy to come by,” Leighton says. The key would be to find a way to synchronize development of a streetcar line with the redevelopment of the street so that it is less expensive.
“We’re in a good position here,” Leighton says. “It’s nice that there [is] some support for businesses going on at the same time as we’re looking at [redevelopment] on a broader scale… It gives some opportunity for local people to be a part of this.”
Moving forward, the West Broadway Alive task force will be following up on redevelopment recommendations. Already the City has designated resources to begin implementing the plans. The task force will be working to increase those resources.
Walker points out that it is also important to “continue the energy that has been developed though the community meetings to make sure that people are still engaged in the process and understand the plan is not something that will be put on the shelf.”
For more information on West Broadway Alive, go to the City of Minneapolis’ website at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us.
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