What’s up on Chicago Avenue?


Reconstruction of Chicago Avenue between 7th Street downtown and 28th Street is scheduled to begin this summer in conjunction with construction of a tunnel that Children’s Hospital is building as part of a $200 million expansion on Chicago’s 2500 block.

Ask just about anybody who has a hands-on role in the development of Minneapolis’ inner city and there’s little doubt that Chicago Avenue is on its way up.

Between 8th Ward City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden’s push for the 38th St./Chicago Ave. Community Development Plan (CPED), which includes new housing choices, access to transportation options, retail amenities, parks, and job opportunities for Powderhorn and surrounding neighborhoods and the Minneapolis Lifesciences Consortium’s continued development of the medical corridor between Seventh Street South and Lake Street, Chicago Avenue is at the center of what CPED Director Mike Christenson calls the “Minneapolis Miracle.”

“Minneapolis appears to have gained a toehold on health care employment,” said former Star Tribune editorial writer Steve Berg in his “Cityscape” post last November. “And with that comes the promise of upward mobility for the city’s youth,” Berg said.

So what’s up with the street itself? Anyone who wants to make the trip along Chicago, from the Crosstown to Downtown, better fasten their seat belt because they’re in for one bumpy ride.

“I have driven, bussed, walked and biked it recently,” City Council Vice-President Robert Lilligren (DFL- Ward 6) told Southside Pride. “It is in dire need of attention. Even some of my city council colleagues comment to me about the rough shape of Chicago Avenue,” Lilligren said.

“The reconstruction of Chicago Avenue is part of our capital improvement plan for 2009/2010,” said Minneapolis Public Work’s Mike Kennedy. “The plan calls for total street reconstruction including pavement, curb and gutter, driveways, storm drain, sidewalks, and signal modifications between 8th Street South and 28th Street East,” Kennedy said. Construction will actually get underway this year, after necessary utility work for the $200 million dollar expansion of Children’s Hospital has been completed.

“The first block to be rebuilt will be the 2500 block, which will have a tunnel underneath for the hospital. That will start this year, “ said Ward 9 Council Member Gary Schiff. “The rest of the street, all the way north of Franklin will be done in 2009. The sidewalks will be widened to make it more pedestrian friendly, and trees will be added to create a canopy,” Schiff said.

In fact, the City’s short-range plans for Chicago Avenue have mainly to do with the its value to the hospitals and health care facilities north of 28th Street. That’s understandable, considering, as the Hennepin County did in 2004 when it passed a unanimous resolution supporting “this corridor, 1.5 miles long and .5 mile wide, [where] there are 19 health and medical institutions, 61 research and clinical labs, more then 2,300 physicians, almost 12,000 health care employees (or almost two-thirds of health care employees in the City of Minneapolis), more then 250 researchers, and more than $21 million received in research,” according to county board minutes.

In the interim, us pilgrims north of the thriving health industry on Chicago Avenue will just have to buckle up and bide our time until the plans for development at the 38th Street node start to kick in.

“Council Member Glidden is definitely a strong, strong advocate for resurfacing or reconstruction of Chicago Avenue from 28th to 38th, but unfortunately those projects are in competition with other City road projects,” said 8th Ward policy aide, Andrea Jenkins. “We are working right now to designate the 38th Street/Chicago node as a pedestrian overlay district. Applications are going out right now for money awarded to the City from a federal non-motorized transit project which helps cities fund more pedestrian-friendly transportation projects,” Jenkins said.

“There’s nothing in our five-year plan for work on Chicago south of 28th Street other than the regular fixes like filling potholes,” said City Capital Projects Coordinator Greg Schroeder.