How often does one go to a candidate forum and enjoy an adult beverage in a swanky event venue? When a group of organizations concerned about balancing development, density and preservation held a confab on those topics June 15, only three Minneapolis mayoral candidates appeared.
The organizers apparently jumped at the chance when the venue was made available (Minneapolis Event Center), invited all and went ahead with who showed up. We will do the same in reporting some of what was said.
Sponsors included Preserve Minneapolis, Neighbors for East Bank Livability, and Great River Coalition. Prolific author and political science and (Hamline and U of M) law professor David Schulz moderated, and there was a discreetly placed time keeper.
Tom Hoch, Raymond Dehn and Jacob Frey answered questions in an order pre-determined by drawing lots, until later in the program they changed it up. Frey, arriving late, missed making an opening statement though he made his platform clear through other answers: Build density, listen to and try to incorporate the concerns of those affected, but build.
Hoch reminisced about living in a house he rehabbed in Northeast, then living at 7 SE Second St., walking his dog here. “We have no long term economic prosperity plan,” he said, and need safe neighborhoods. “I’m the only candidate who has created some affordable housing,” as deputy executive director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority making the high rises senior-specific.
Dehn is in his third term as State Representative for most of downtown and for North Minneapolis, areas that “could mirror what is the rest of the city” with the wide range of constituents. He said the city is at a point where we need a different kind of leadership. As an architect, “I have designed affordable housing. We have to think about the impact of what we build.”
What is the value – in terms of economics, social fabric, and livability – of protecting historic structures?
Hoch gave the example of saving downtown theater buildings as a projects manager for the city. “We said if you don’t keep the theater, you can’t do the deal…in the end, the developer became a donor to Hennepin Theater Trust,” which Hoch then headed. Reminded of the question, Hoch said, “does anyone doubt the value of the four theaters? It is a leap of faith.”
Dehn echoed, “Value is sometimes not measurable. In the 60s and 70s we removed a lot of buildings and we need to think about how we can repair that. First Avenue has a totally different feel from Hennepin Avenue,” mentioning Butler Square. “Most cities in the U.S. and Europe have historic centers. Cities change, there is a natural evolution. What parts don’t raise to that level? Not just city hall but the people” should be involved in what are we going to keep.
Frey: “We have a beautiful history, it centers around the riverfront…but if everything was kept like 1910, we wouldn’t have trees!” The Hennepin/Central “wedge” has an “undulating character” of different building heights. “I’m pro-growth, I believe neighborhoods thrive when they’re not stagnant. We preserved Dinkytown, the growth there is where there’s now surface parking and underused properties.” He said homes with beautiful character should be preserved. “As mayor I would make sure everyone has a voice.”
Who are the primary stewards of historic resources?
They all answered basically “we all are.” Hoch used the metaphor of mayor as “the conductor” of an orchestra. Dehn said, “the worst, failed, negotiation is to get to the middle.” When voices are valued, [those opposed] may get more than they might have expected, Dehn added. Frey said, “You don’t make decisions in a vacuum, it’s about being accessible, to take the time to call and discuss. But in the end I have to make the decisions I think are right.”
How do you balance housing demand and city density versus livable, affordable neighborhoods, and give at least two concrete examples:
Hoch: Gentrification is defined as pushing people out – that it isn’t their home anymore. “Development density is part of sustainability. No is not the answer, how is the question we should be asking as a group.” (No specific examples)
Dehn gave examples: Accessory dwelling units adding density to residential areas because people are not going to have cars. “Livable affordable neighborhoods are also about amenities that need to be in close proximity.” Light Rail Transit nodes are opportunities for higher density, and light industrial areas where businesses want to get out. The corridor between 94 and the Mississippi River has “amazing potential for mixed use.”
Frey: 1319 4th St. SE (a battle with Doran Companies over their intent to tear down commercial buildings). “We can incentivize affordable housing; like if you want to build beyond 3-4 stories require affordability.” Examples of “things I’ve promised have happened:” housing for former felons, in North Loop, and senior housing in the central riverfront.
What is your big idea for Minneapolis? (and the followup, how to pay for it)Frey: Two ideas: One, house the homeless. It costs three times as much to keep a person homeless, than it does to give them a home; this would require up front capital investment but pay off in other costs saved. Two, small scale retail. There’s nostalgia for Dayton’s but that model is dead. The streets we love to walk have 5-6-8 different businesses, we’re creating that atmosphere.
Hoch: Like other major cities, we need a prosperity plan. We have Fortune 500 companies, but what if one of them leaves? “We should be focusing on food. We could be the breadbasket, and that would help with the urban/rural divide. Health and wellness, medical tourism, arts and culture. “The cost is in NOT doing anything. We haven’t created a Fortune 500 company in 40 years.”
Dehn: Two big ideas. “Make this a Net Zero Energy city. We will have to re-think how we generate and use energy. In London, it costs so much to drive a car,” so people don’t have cars or use them less. And technology: Kids are brilliant, let’s get them writing code. Dehn said the Net Zero Energy idea would require making sure transit works, and making parking more expensive, but he thinks the mindset would pay for itself in five years.
Asked “what can be done to protect the natural habitat” of pollinators and bird flyways, all three agree that bird-safe glass at the new U.S. Bank Stadium would have been a no-brainer, and “count me in” on supporting “lights out” in buildings at night during migrations to avoid confusing the birds.
All waxed poetic about the beauty of the river, perhaps anxious to go out and watch the sun set over it on one of the longest days of the year. Only in their closing statements did any references to the Trump administration surface, and as a group they expressed optimism for Minneapolis.
Here’s a link to another article on mayoral candidates written by Alex Schlee titled “Local business, big banks, minimum wage topics at mayoral meetup,” http://www.mynortheaster.com/news/local-business-b…t-mayoral-meetup/
Below: Only three of the seven mayoral candidates appeared at the forum on density vs. historic preservation: Raymond Dehn, Jacob Frey, and Tom Hoch. The forum was hosted in the air-conditioned comfort of the Minneapolis Event Center and attendees could buy adult beverages. (Photo by Alex Schlee)