Neighbors frustrated by lack of development on Lowry

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January 31, 2013
By: Ben Johnson
By Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson

The Lowry Avenue Northeast Development Plan was created in 2002 to help clean up the blight along Lowry and pave the way for new development in the area. So far the vision hasn’t been realized and blight remains.

The 2002 plan called for “major redevelopment” in North Minneapolis around the intersections of Lyndale and Fremont, and “modest redevelopment” around Lowry and Central in Northeast.

Although property was bought up and razed in north Minneapolis, little new development has been seen there, and very little property has been razed or redeveloped across the river in Northeast.

“We never saw the money or time spent on [Lowry] and so now we’re witnessing a sort of slow decay,” said one attendee of a recent Bottineau Neighborhood Association meeting. Many residents at that meeting lamented the number of dilapidated, vacant and underused buildings still standing today on Lowry.

City Council Member Kevin Reich (1st Ward) was on the Community Advisory Committee for the plan in 2002. He remembers a rift between the county and the city on the best way to go about the redevelopment effort. Minneapolis and some of the neighborhood organizations involved favored a “pruning approach,” where development would happen block by block, sparing some of the local businesses that residents had supported for years. Hennepin County favored a “clear cut approach,” where they would buy up and raze blocks of Lowry for fresh development.

“No version happened,” said Reich. “The targeted redevelopment approach favored by the community organizations didn’t happen because the county was pretty insistent on their clear cut plan … and the clear cut plan didn’t work out on the east side of the river because the buildings weren’t all boarded up and vacant and they had a higher price point.”

It seems as though the county has come around on the pruning approach. At the Bottineau meeting newly elected Hennepin County Commissioner Linda Higgins stated she wanted to “start with cleaning up some of the major intersections” when talking about plans for Lowry redevelopment.

“This is not the time to try and acquire $50-100 million worth of properties and uproot the families and homes that have been in the neighborhood,” said Higgins.

Higgins acknowledged that the 2002 plan was no longer relevant and has no concrete plans to revamp it, although it remains a possibility as she gets settled into her new position. Members of the Bottineau Neighborhood Association discussed potential ways they could help, including getting their small-area plan submitted to the city and chipping in money for a traffic study to be done on Lowry.

The glaring exception to the lack of new construction on Lowry is the Lowry Bridge, which opened Oct. 27, 2012. The demolition of the original 1905 bridge and construction of the new, $105 million project took four and a half years. Its impressive white arches are lit up with blue LED lights at night — a stark contrast to the dilapidated eastern half of Lowry Avenue.

Now that the long construction process is over, some are hopeful that the new bridge will bring new businesses. The uncertainty over what the government is planning to do with Lowry is widely regarded as the largest impediment to investment along the avenue.

“If the plan isn’t valid, if there isn’t money to do it, if there isn’t a willingness in the community to do it, maybe it’s time to rethink the plan so it better communicates the situation to the development world,” said Reich.

There have been some recent developments along Lowry. The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization opened their new headquarters at the foot of the Lowry Bridge just a few days after the bridge opened. Audubon Crossing, a $7.8 million, 30-unit apartment building was constructed in 2010, and developer Peter Remes of First and First has been working with the city to develop the old Little Jack’s site at 201 Lowry Ave., according to Reich. Reich also hinted at multiple other future developments that are in the works along Lowry.

Although the first plan was a failure, with the new bridge constructed and Northeast becoming more and more attractive to potential investors, the revitalization of Lowry may finally be revitalized.

“The timing to start having this discussion as our economy begins to pull out of the recession is good,” said City Council Member Diane Hofstede (3rd Ward). “It’s obvious there’s much passion and enthusiasm from the neighborhood.”