Development update: Finding cash for a tot lot

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August 17, 2009 // UPDATED 8:54 am - August 17, 2009
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is interested in building a tot lot at 4th Avenue North and West River Parkway, but the catch is they have no money budgeted to do so.

Commissioner Jon Olson said new capital projects typically start at the back of a waiting list that can be seven to 10 years long.

“That community is growing, and there is getting to be a lot of kids,” Olson said. “How do we fill a need the neighborhood has now, and not seven years down the road?”

Olson suggested building the playground as a demonstration project for a national conference that’s coming to Minneapolis in 2010. The Park Board could plan and maintain the park, according to staff, and the neighborhood association could help raise the money for construction, an amount that Olson said would typically start at about $300,000.

Park officials are currently seeking approval from the National Recreation and Park Association to construct a nature-themed playground for its upcoming conference.

The “natural” playground style is increasingly popular nationwide, but it would be a first for Minneapolis. According to the Idaho-based Playground Magazine, research indicates a strong link between outdoor play in nature and psychological well-being. Consequently, companies are increasingly working to fit manufactured play equipment into the natural landscape.

The North Loop’s playground site is currently a woodsy space with a bike path and a handful of picnic tables and grills.

“It’s a central spot for the neighborhood,” said Anna Larsson of North Loop Kids, a group that has advocated for the playground. “We are all really hopeful about taking this dream to reality.”

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Mixed views on Warehouse District development guidelines

City officials are trying to protect the character of the Warehouse District with new guidelines for construction, but not everyone is happy with the proposed changes.

The draft guidelines would do things like maintain sightlines along rail corridors, reuse old loading docks and retain original storefronts. The guidelines would also ask building owners to take extra care with their exteriors — repairing rather than replacing materials, for example, and refraining from sandblasting.

Lupe Development Principal Steve Minn said he thinks many North Loop projects would not move forward if the guidelines were passed. He said height limitations were the “death knell” for a project he was considering in the neighborhood.

Heights would be capped at 20 stories in a strip of land that stretches north of the new ballpark, six stories in an area that circles part of 1st and 3rd avenues, and 10 stories everywhere else.

Chuck Leer, the developer of Tower Lofts and the Lab Theater, said he is worried that restrictive guidelines could hinder plans for a transit hub next to the new ballpark that would benefit from dense development nearby.

“I don’t understand why there is a rush to get this done right now,” he said. “There isn’t any major pending development they need to regulate. Everything in the economy is limping along at best.”

Other neighborhood stakeholders were optimistic about the situation.

David Frank, chair of the North Loop Neighborhood Association, said the draft guidelines have already evolved for the better because city staff have been open to neighborhood input. For example, Frank said the original guidelines deemed that transit shelters would not be compatible with the historic district, but residents helped reverse that idea.

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the guidelines in mid-November, and they would take effect later that month.

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Western Container building project stalls

The Western Container building at 500 N. 3rd St. will continue to sit empty following the City Council’s rejection of plans to renovate office space there.

“They literally blew the thing out of the water,” said David Kelly, project architect. “[Now] they have an abandoned building that can’t be redeveloped.”

Kelly said only the ground floor is currently usable because the basement and upper floors don’t have the proper exiting access. He said he is unaware of any revised plans the owners have for the building.

City staff recommended against the project and said a building addition and other repairs would have hurt the building’s historic character. The old grocery warehouse is likely one of the nation’s earliest examples of flat slab reinforced concrete design, according to the city.

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13th Street to get spiffier

The City Council voted earlier this summer to spruce up 13th Street between Nicollet Mall and the Convention Center. They’re making it a “pedestrian gateway” with a new sidewalk and more greenery. City officials are hoping that a more inviting walkway with better wayfinding signs will better connect the Convention Center to the mall, Eat Street and the Loring Greenway. Construction is expected to begin in 2009 at a cost of about $903,000.