Civic Beat // Interchange project approved

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July 2, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

Construction is expected to begin in mid-July on a $79.2 million project to completely renovate the north side of Target Field, where roughly 8,000 fans catch light rail trains. 


On June 26, the Hennepin County Board, on a 5-1 vote, approved the project, picked Knutson Construction as the contractor and made about $22 million in county money available. 


Hennepin County Project Manager Ed Hunter said the plan is for a two-year construction that would finish before the start of the 2014 Twins season, as well as before the addition of Central Corridor Light Rail to the hub. 


Between the Hiawatha light rail line and the North Star commuter line, about 250 trains leave or arrive the station every day, according to Hennepin County. When Central Corridor comes on line in 2014, that number is expected to top 500. 


The Interchange project will include new loading platforms, a split-level plaza with a “Cascade” staircase linking the upper and lower levels and a large green lawn. 


The state has kicked in $17.2 million, the federal government has contributed $20.5 million and the Ballpark Authority another $1.5 million. Hennepin County plans to sell development rights on the plaza, which could be for restaurants or retailers. It will also collect revenue from about 250 parking spaces below the plaza. 


“We’re cautiously bullish on the development potential here,” Hunter said. 


Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin says the county may also sell naming rights to the plaza. 


“Naming rights is a possibility. It’s in discussions,” McLaughlin said. “That will be something to help defray the construction costs.”




Crown Hydro says it will intervene before license termination


A project that would have harnessed St. Anthony Falls power for hydroelectricity near Downtown is on life support after a 13-year political battle, as a federal commission has initiated proceedings to terminate the project’s license. 


The Crown Hydro project would have installed turbines below the St. Anthony Falls on the west side of the river and generated 3.2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 2,200 homes. 


Documents filed on June 14 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission say the project isn’t making any progress and therefore should lose its license. The only thing that can stop the proceedings is a motion to intervene, which is due July 19.


On June 22, Crown Hydro Attorney left a voicemail with The Journal saying the project would intervene in the proceedings. 


“Crown Hydro does intend to intervene in the notice to terminate on the basis of the substantial progress we have made developing a facility on the [U.S. Army] Corps [of Engineers] federal campus,” Keane said. 


Crown Hydro got a federal license for the project in 1999 and the owner, Bill Hawks, purchased turbines that have sat unused since. 


“After more than 13 years since the issuance of the license, there is still no expectation that the licensee will complete construction of the project in the foreseeable future,” FERC wrote in its documents initiating the license termination. 


Crown Hydro has made several attempts to complete the project since 1999, but the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has denied it a lease needed to dig below park property. 


Last May, Crown Hydro made one last effort to sway Park Board commissioners to approve the project. Crown Hydro even got as far as drafting a letter of intent in conjunction with Park Board staff, but at the 11th hour the deal fell apart. Crown Hydro says the Park Board made late changes to the letter that made the project unworkable. 


The Park Board didn’t like a few things about the project. Commissioners and neighbors complained that by diverting water to the turbines, St. Anthony Falls would dry up. They also expressed concerns about what effects construction would have on the integrity of the surrounding land in the burgeoning Mill District of Downtown.


In recent months, Crown Hydro has been trying to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to agree to a deal that would allow the turbines to be installed below federal property.