Gov. Mark Dayton and the state Legislature recently approved a bonding bill that included $15 million for an ambitious overhaul of a nearly 50-acre site in North Minneapolis.
The $1.46 billion bonding bill, approved May 30, will fund the first phase of infrastructure and park improvements at the Upper Harbor Terminal, a former shipping terminal that the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board hope to see developed. The jumpstart in funds will match with funds from the two government entities to begin the first phase of constructing new roads and park improvements.
“This was a very, very, very successful session, easily the best in at least a decade on a couple of fronts,” said Brian Rice, the board’s legal counsel, who noted he’s been representing the board on legislative matters for 35 years.
With a local match and the state bonding money, funding for the first phase of the Upper Harbor Terminal is at least $30 million. Rice said they were successful due in part to the shared priorities of the City of Minneapolis, which added to the lobbying effort at the Legislature.
“It was the city’s top priority. It was one of our top priorities,” he said at a June 6 meeting. “Mayor (Jacob) Frey picked that up and pushed it over the line with the city’s help. We might’ve blocked and tackled a few times, but they really did a job in doing it.”
Now the city, Park Board and their selected development team led by Minneapolis-based United Properties are working through issues associated with the site, located two miles from downtown Minneapolis between 33rd Avenue North and 40th Avenue North on the Mississippi River’s west bank.
The development team, which includes Minneapolis-based Thor Construction and First Avenue Productions, released a proposal in 2016 for the Upper Harbor Terminal. It called for 700-1,000 units of housing, 100,000-150,000 square feet of creative office space, 40,000-70,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 180,000 square feet of space for advanced manufacturing and a two-acre incubator development.
First Avenue is planning an amphitheater venue capable of hosting 8,000-10,000 people for concerts and festivals, a proposal in similar scope to the company’s previous events at Hall’s Island and Scherer site.
Beyond the private development, the Park Board would like a significant, but undetermined amount of the Upper Harbor Terminal to be turned into a “first-class regional park” to serve North Side residents and the entire Twin Cities metro region.
The first phase of park improvements includes parkway, bike and walking trails that will connect to the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway system, along with other “special park features.” It’s the board’s goal to have trails lining both banks of the Mississippi River.
Rice called the project a “game changer” for North Minneapolis.
“It signals a long-term partnership,” he said. “If the Upper Harbor Terminal develops, you’re really going to see the whole area green up. So that’s a major accomplishment.”
More information will be available for community input sometime this summer, the project team said in a June announcement. More information about the project is available at upperharbormpls.com.
Riverfront parks get state money
In addition to the Upper Harbor Terminal, the state bonding bill included money for several new and existing park sites along the riverfront.
The metro park projects are getting $10 million, which will help fund downtown’s Water Works and the redevelopment of the Scherer and Hall’s Island sites in Northeast Minneapolis.
The Legislature included $1 million for repairs to the Stone Arch Bridge in the bonding bill, which will allow the Minnesota Department of Transportation to inspect the bridge and begin design work for the repairs. But it won’t address the underlying issue of deterioration of the mortar above and below the water level, MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle said in a statement last month.
MnDOT requested nearly $13 million this past winter for the repair work, which would include removing and replacing the bridge’s mortar and masonry block. It said costs for the repair work would continue to rise and that it may need to close the bridge in the future without the funding.
Chris Meyer, the District 1 commissioner representing the city’s East Side, called the $1 million, which is meant to avoid a pre-emptive closure of the bridge, a “Band-Aid.”
The Park Board is working on a new destination park site nearby bridge.
Water Works is a redevelopment of the former Fuji Ya restaurant building and adjacent riverfront land downriver from the 3rd Avenue Bridge. The key piece of the project is a glass pavilion that the Park Board will build inside mill ruins that have been buried beneath the restaurant for decades.
The first part of the two-phase project began last fall. Construction on the pavilion is slated to begin early this fall, granted the Park Board and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, its philanthropic partner, have secured the necessary funding. The bonding money will support the second phase of construction, which is focused on the surrounding area closer to the Mississippi River. That work will include a walking bridge extension at the end of the Stone Arch Bridge.
Upriver, the Park Board is nearing the completion of the reconstruction of Hall’s Island, an island that had previously been dredged and absorbed into the Scherer site, a former lumberyard. Park staff expect to finish the reconstruction work by the end of June.
Future work will include a pier connecting the island, which is currently not open to park goers, to the Scherer site. The Park Board is repairing the walking and biking paths on the site that may have been damaged during the island reconstruction.
-Nate Gotlieb contributed to this report