A plan for “the longest single-owner development opportunity on the Mississippi River” has a lot more clarity as it inches toward City Council consideration.
Even before the gates closed for the last time at the St. Anthony Lock, the eyes of the city, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), and private developers turned north to the mile-long strip of riverfront known as the Upper Harbor Terminal. The end of river traffic above St. Anthony Falls in 2015 left a large part of that area without a commercial purpose; in the last six years, a number of development concepts have been proposed. The area’s 48 acres lie between 33rd Avenue North and Dowling Avenue North, between I-94 and the river.
Beginning in 2019, the City of Minneapolis, United Properties, First Avenue, and the Upper Harbor Terminal Collaborative Planning Committee (UHT CPC), a community advisory committee of Northside residents and organizations, reworked the original Upper Harbor Terminal concept plan to “achieve more equitable and inclusive outcomes for North Minneapolis… and committed to ensuring that this development benefits the Northside community.” It will affect Northeast as well.
On Jan. 5, the city’s Director of Economic Policy and Development Erik Hansen led a virtual open house that presented a “draft coordinated plan” for the project, showing the most recent design for the site. Members of CPED, Public Works, and developers’ representatives explained some of the details.
One of the redevelopment objectives is, in the CPC’s words, “To connect North Minneapolis to the Mississippi River and retain public ownership of the land.” The current plan includes a community performing arts center, a health and wellness hub, and new affordable housing. It will also provide commercial spaces for local businesses, with the possibility of community ownership or management of commercial real estate and as many as 1,200 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs.
Among the project’s stated priorities are “economic inclusion, anti-displacement and anti-gentrification, wealth creation and community ownership, affordable housing, environmental justice and sustainability, and mobility and public space.”
The group offered a timeline for a two-phase development: February 2021 – anticipated City Council consideration of the draft plan; February 2021 – August 2021: implementation; 2022: construction start on infrastructure and park, followed by Phase 1 development. Phase 2 (2025 on) would include a health and wellness hub, and additional commercial space and housing units. Infrastructure work would begin first, according to Public Works Department Transportation planners Nathan Koster and Alexander Kato. Koster said Dowling and Lyndale Avenues will need modifications, including the approaches to the rail tracks at Dowling. MPRB plans a 19-acre riverfront park within the development, near the existing grain elevators and storage domes (one or more of which may be repurposed). The estimated cost for the entire project is now at $320 million.
First Avenue has proposed a 10,000-seat amphitheater as a community performing arts center at the river’s edge that could be owned and operated by First Avenue and a public entity. A ticket tax has been suggested to fund local business development and other community priorities. The city is seeking $20 million for construction. Phase 1 start would be early 2023.
The draft plan calls for 500 or more housing units (apartments and townhomes) for families, workforce, seniors, and unrestricted (market-rate) occupancy, in four buildings. A majority of the units would be built over a combined 45,000 square feet of commercial space. Construction would take place over a four to five-year period, beginning around April 2023. Facilities for manufacturing and commercial food production are slated for the south end of the area, including rooftop space for solar and/or agriculture.
United Properties’ Senior Vice President Brandon Champeau said his company, together with Thor Companies and First Avenue, responded to a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the project in 2016; their proposal was the only entry. Since the original concept plan was laid out, Thor ended its part in the development due to internal financial difficulties, and opposition from neighborhood groups caused a proposed hotel to be dropped from the plan; its space will have mixed-income housing instead. United Properties, George Group North and First Avenue will continue as private developers for the project. Champeau estimates he has attended more than 130 meetings for what he called “a challenging concept.”
A number of questions from online attendees were about noise and traffic during amphitheater events. CPED’s Hilary Holmes said the venue would need to comply with all city noise restrictions; a study showed no issues with the nearby heron rookery. She added, “Studies with ongoing acoustic design will be done after the arts center concept is finalized.”
Below: View of proposed food production facility at 33rd Avenue N and West River Parkway; Current grain elevators at the proposed site of a 19-acre park; Aerial view of Upper Harbor Terminal complex, 2013 (Photos from City of Minneapolis CPED)