Ward 3 City Council Member-elect Jacob Frey had his first town hall meeting last night at the Mill District Neighborhood Association’s November meeting. Although he was received warmly by the crowd, the questions he fielded were pointed, hard-hitting and on several instances he did not have enough information to answer completely.
There were three committees Frey said he was most interested in serving on: Community Development, Regulatory, Energy and Environment, and Zoning and Planning. He said his top priorities as a new City Council Member are increasing the residential population downtown by attracting young families, desegregating the city, and being extremely accessible to his constituents and their concerns.
More than a dozen topics were covered during the 90 minute question-and-answer session. State Rep. Raymond Dehn (59B), former City Council President and mayoral candidate Jackie Cherryhomes and several prominent developers were in attendance. Here are some of the issues discussed:
Finding a school for downtown families
Frey said currently there are 150 families in Downtown, East Bank and North Loop that want a school for their children. He has been working with the School Board to figure out different ways to make that happen and has found four options, which he listed from his favorite to his least favorite.
The first option would be to rent space in North Loop for a kindergarten-3rd grade school to show the School Board that there is demand for a downtown school, and then work toward a permanent solution.
The second option would be to re-open the old Webster school in St. Anthony East. Webster would initially serve as a pre-K to second grade, but with state-funded renovations it would eventually grow to serve up to fifth grade.
The third option would be to move an arts program in Sheridan to Cityview in north Minneapolis and use that space space to accommodate kids from Downtown, North Loop, East Bank and parts of Northeast.
The fourth option was similar to the third, but instead of moving a program from Sheridan it would move a program from Marcy. Frey said there’s been a ton of pushback on this idea and he does not support it.
Southwest Light Rail Transit
Frey expressed dismay over St. Louis Park going back on its previous agreement to re-route freight rail to accommodate the SWLRT.
“How do we incorporate light rail while not harming the existing habitat, and not causing too much havoc to the local businesses and local homeowners? Doing all three of those things is not possible,” said Frey.
He said he would trust scientists’ opinions on whether or not a shallow tunnel is feasible, and made clear he thinks SWLRT is vital to Minneapolis’ long-term future.
Building affordable family housing downtown
“For a young family to consider staying downtown – I won’t – for the square footage and what it costs to raise a family it’s not in our best interest to stay down here,” said one resident. “How do you plan on keeping the thirty-somethings that think they can afford to live downtown…but then all of these expenses never decrease living down here?”
Frey said he plans to make downtown more affordable for families by not increasing property taxes and lobbying the state for more local government aid, finding a good public school option for downtown families so they don’t have to pay tuition at DeLaSalle or Blake, and aggressively recruiting and helping developers committed to building affordable two and three-bedroom units.
The park in the upcoming Ryan development
Currently the plans in the Ryan development call for a “passive park,” with grass and trees and few other amenities. Frey advocated for an “active park” with more amenities, and would defer to neighborhood input and committees in determining what those amenities were.
To pay for an active park he said money would probably come from the Park Board and from selling the “sky rights” to the city’s parking garage being built as part of the Ryan project. Frey also emphasized that he wants as many eyes on the park as possible to prevent it from becoming a crime hotspot.
Frey repeated his “eyes on the street” mantra during a conversation about public safety downtown. He wants to see as many transparent surfaces facing streets as possible.
“Crime statistically doesn’t happen in front of windows,” he said.
Frey was intrigued but non-committal over talk of trying to expand the Downtown Improvement District into the Mill District, but was very interested in helping a newly-formed public safety coalition involving representatives from 14 buildings on either side of the river.
Frey expressed frustration over Crown Hydro’s decision to hold its community engagement meeting on a Tuesday afternoon two days before Thanksgiving. He’s adamantly opposed to Crown’s proposal and said he will use his organization’s skill in quickly mobilizing large groups to make sure there are plenty of people at the meeting.
Crown Hydro has been trying to build a 3.2 megawatt hydropower facility adjacent to St. Anthony Falls for nearly 15 years. Its latest proposal moves the facility 150 to the north, off of Park Board land, which has blocked Crown in the past.
The community engagement meeting is in Pohlad Hall at the Central Library, 300 Nicollet Ave., on Nov. 26., 3:30 p.m.
Calling it “the saddest issue ever,” Frey said legally there’s not a lot the city can do end the lockout. However, he said that he has been looking into some “power plays” the city could use because it owns Orchestra Hall.
Rep. Dehn chimed in to say that the state has its hands tied until next August, when the new, renovated Orchestra Hall has been open for one year. After one year the state can tell the city to take possession of the Orchestra Hall, and residents can look at operating the orchestra as a community-owned organization.
Dehn also encouraged residents to go to the orchestra’s next board meeting on Dec. 6 and encourage the board to resign and transition to new leadership.