Work begins on new plan for Lowry Ave NE

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March 11, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
A boarded-up building on Lowry Avenue NE
Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
After 2002 Lowry Avenue Corridor Plan failed to impact Northeast, a new plan focusing on six major intersections is being developed

Hennepin County is redoing the Lowry Avenue Corridor Plan after the original 2002 plan failed to improve conditions on the east side of the Mississippi River.

The new plan will focus on six major intersections on Lowry: Marshall Avenue, 2nd Street, University Avenue, Washington Street, Monroe Street and Central Avenue.

The “node-centric” approach is a significant deviation from the “clear-cut” approach the county took a decade earlier.

After the 2002 plan was enacted, work began on the western end of Lowry in North Minneapolis. Blighted properties were bought, razed and the empty lots were readied for development all along Lowry Avenue, however, much of the anticipated development never materialized.

“It was very expensive and of course a lot of those redevelopment opportunities are still empty lots. But they did clean it up, but now there’s nothing there, so it’s kind of like the Omega Man, it’s very eerily quiet when you drive west on Lowry,” said Ward 1 City Council Member Kevin Reich.

Reich said he cast one of the handful of dissenting votes on the original Lowry Avenue plan in 2002 as a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee.

See previously: "Neighbors frustrated by lack of development on Lowry"

The project ran out of money by the time the clear-cutting finished in North Minneapolis and Northeast saw little investment. Now Hennepin County Commissioner Linda Higgins is spearheading a new effort to finish improvements to Lowry Avenue in Northeast.

A map of the six intersection being studied -- courtesy of Hennepin County

The new plan

Work began during the winter to notify and engage stakeholders along Lowry and the first public meeting was held on Feb. 27.

At the six major intersections work will be focused on making pedestrian and traffic improvements, greening and stormwater management, and creating realistic redevelopment scenarios.

“It’s unsafe to drive on that road right now, especially with two lanes and ice and snow and everything. That’s the big thing for me, whether it’s reducing it down to one lane each direction with a turn lane, or something else, safety really has to be addressed,” said Doug Werner, a Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association board member. Four of the six intersections being studied cut through Holland neighborhood.

Reich said former Ward 1 City Council Member Don Risk has told him deciding to widen Lowry in the 1960s was one of his biggest regrets. It’s unlikely Lowry will be returned to the tree-lined neighborhood boulevard it used to be, but residents are optimistic the node-centric approach will help it become a safer, calmer, more inviting street.

“People know what was lost, and we won’t go back to that old tree-lined street because of trucking demands, but can we recapture a community-based feeling?” asked Reich.

A rendering of Betty Danger's Country Club -- courtesy of Smart Associates

There have been some encouraging signs of redevelopment along Lowry recently. Local restaurateur Leslie Bock is constructing a new complex complete with a restaurant, bar, mini-golf course and ferris wheel at the former location of Psycho Suzi’s on the corner of Lowry and Marshall.

Stanley’s, on the corner of Lowry and University, is nearly doubling in size this summer, and developers are working on a project that would include affordable housing and a recording studio at the Little Jack’s site on the corner of Lowry and 2nd Avenue.

This spring work will be focused on studying bike and pedestrian improvements for the entire corridor and looking at different options to improve each of the six intersections.

During the summer improvements will be identified, refined, and selected, and cost estimates will be made. Then in the fall an implementation plan will be drafted and public comments will accepted while funding sources are secured.

Hennepin County has paid $300,000 to consultants to get the project rolling, but money for improvements will have to come from a variety of sources.

To get involved, go to www.hennepin.us/lowry or email ideas to LowryAveCW@hennepin.us

Ben Johnson // 612-436-5088 // bjohnson@mnpubs.com // @johnsonbend