How many plans have there been to redevelop West Broadway? “You can count the number by the strip malls,” said Tom Leighton. “The city did Hawthorn Crossings, Broadway Center, Target. Then they’d call it a day. There’s been a lot of skepticism out there about West Broadway Alive [the city’s newest plan], but that’s healthy.”
Leighton, principal community planner for Minneapolis’ Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), added, “I’ve gone to practically all the neighborhoods in North Minneapolis. I’ve found that people are really interested in the fact that there is a big effort focused on West Broadway right now.
“People in this area lack goods and services, and access to them. They say there’s nothing they want to buy on the avenue. There are a lot of beauty shops, but what they want are restaurants, office products, clothing, and electronics stores. There’s a lot of common purpose in this effort. So far, it doesn’t feel like there are big factions of opposition to it.”
Leighton said the West Broadway Alive initiative got off to a slow start two years ago, when city staff was trying to figure out how to fund the initial study. Eventually, city officials “just decided to fund it,” along with a $25,000 contribution for North Side Residents’ Redevelopment Council (NRRC).
“We were able to come out around the beginning of 2006 and put together a steering committee and put out an RFP [request for proposals] for a consultant. We got Short, Elliott, Hendrickson [based in downtown Minneapolis] and started having public meetings. The first one was August 2006; the fifth and last was this August.”
West Broadway, once the vibrant commercial center of North Minneapolis, has deteriorated through the years into a street that includes closed storefronts and run down commercial buildings. It has been plagued by livability issues such as drug dealing, prostitution, graffiti and litter. Many business owners struggle because drivers speed down the road without stopping to shop locally. There is little foot traffic, because prospective customers say they perceive the street as unsafe.
However, in the last five years, several developments and new businesses have brought more energy to the street. Plymouth Christian Youth Center built a new middle school and is renovating the Capri Theater. The Ackerberg Group renovated 1101 West Broadway and added Emerge (a Pillsbury United Community social service agency that focuses on job placement), the City-County Federal Credit Union, and Bean Scene II, a coffee shop, as tenants. St. Anne’s Senior Community, a newly constructed housing complex for seniors at Queen and 26th avenues N. will soon open to residents.
Leighton said the West Broadway redevelopment effort has several fronts. “We asked what it would take to attract developers. How do you make it work from a development sense? We’re seeing some, but there is a certain kind of development that won’t happen without addressing some challenges for developers. For one thing, their challenge is finding out who their market is.”
From a design standpoint, he said, the street lacks unity and a sense of identity. “There are a lot of landscapes out there. In some cases [as you make your way down the road] the ones coming up are more horrifying than the ones you left. It’s a challenge.
“From a business standpoint, the questions are, ‘Do we have the right mix of stores in one area that are useful for people?’ ‘Is there enough parking?’ ‘Is it comfortable for pedestrians to cross the street?’ ‘Is there apparent support for businesses, and is the organization [a business organization] functioning well?’”
Leighton said that in the community meetings, people identified three groups of people who might be interested in moving to the West Broadway area: arts-focused groups, minority-focused groups, and people who go to church in North Minneapolis. “We need to find out what it would take for them to be interested in living on or near West Broadway so we can give that information to developers.”
He said the city has many resources that support commercial and residential development, but “there are gaps in our research base. One glaring gap, in terms of support for housing development, is that our program is almost entirely designed to creating and supporting affordable units.
“If you’re trying to create balance, a sustainable community, there aren’t the resources to create both affordable units and market rate units. One recommendation coming out of this plan is to look at providing better support for mixed-income developments. [As things are], we’re not going to attract an average middle class family from Edina to move to the Jordan neighborhood or to West Broadway.” That leads, Leighton added, back to the question for developers: “Who’s your market?”
Recommendations for improving the look and design of West Broadway, based on community input, will likely include public art, streetscaping, unified building facades. “Our goal for improving the community is to unify the street and somehow make it distinctive, like Eat Street on Nicollet Avenue [south of downtown]. In that area there are some common elements of fencing, signage.
“In North, the community is all over this thing. They’re willing to support making West Broadway really distinctive and they think public art is fantastic. They suggested something to express community values, such as banners. They want community engagement, where the community actually contributes to the physical environment.”
In the short term, the first area planners might consider working on is Hawthorn Crossings, Leighton said. “Hawthorn Crossing looks good and has a lot of promise. It still doesn’t function well as a district, however; it’s hard for pedestrians to cross the street. We want to do some traffic calming. And the parking lot might benefit from some changes.”
Some West Broadway streetscape improvements might be put on hold, because Hennepin County plans to finish reconstruction of West Broadway from Girard Avenue to the Mississippi River. “We’d like to encourage them to do it sooner rather than later. We can change the alignment of the street slightly, make it wider, create a sidewalk width and install some streetscaping, lighting, benches, decorative bike racks.
“We’d like to see an annual Art on Broadway installation, as well as banners, painted trash cans. Inscribing some phrases on the sidewalks.”
When asked about crime and safety issues, Leighton said, “That is really the police department’s area, but we believe that empowering the business district there will help deter crime. While acknowledging the critical importance of safety, as city planners we’re focusing on what we understand. There are cameras on Broadway, and the business community has developed some practices for making it harder for people to loiter.
“The police now have Shot Spotter in North Minneapolis. We did a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design profile, to flag the buildings that are poorly designed from that perspective; buildings with no windows, for instance.”
Leighton said the research work that the city did before it redeveloped the Penn Lowry intersection (now being built, it will include an Aldi grocery store and other commercial spaces) will be included in the West Broadway Alive document.
The consultants are working on writing the draft document (for the West Broadway Alive plan) now, Leighton said, consolidating all the input from the community meetings and planners’ suggestions. Leighton said it will likely take about four months to work through the city council approval process. There are no future public meetings scheduled, although there will be a final public hearing when the plan goes to the City Planning Commission for approval. If approved at that point, it goes on to the city council.
Leighton said, “I think we’re looking at approval early in 2008.”
For more information on the West Broadway Alive plan, go to the city’s web site, www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us, (click on the Planning Department section). Leighton can be reached at 612-673-3853, or at Thomas.Leighton@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.