Councilmembers toss back North Loop spending plan

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January 26, 2004 // UPDATED 2:43 pm - April 24, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

A City Council committee rebuffed a $193,000 spending proposal for Downtown's North Loop neighborhood earlier this month, in part because it would duplicate an existing Downtown development plan.

City Councilmembers Gary Schiff (9th Ward) and Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) criticized the North Loop Neighborhood Association's Neighborhood Revitalization Program plan for emphasizing marketing and planning while not setting aside dollars for crime prevention.

North Loop includes Downtown west of 3rd Avenue North and the riverfront west of Hennepin Avenue south to Washington Avenue.

For instance, the plan would set aside $76,000 for a comprehensive neighborhood master plan that would overlap with a city's Downtown East/North Loop master plan approved in October.

The city's plan calls for high-density housing near the light-rail transit (LRT) line along 5th Street through Downtown. It also calls for streetscaping improvements and "complete communities" in Downtown East and North Loop, where residents would work, shop and find entertainment within a self-contained space largely free of cars.

North Loop's master plan would focus on developing a Washington Avenue boulevard plan, including improving neighborhood lighting and traffic management, among other things.

Schiff said "more is not the merrier" when it comes to development plans, adding the city's plan was an effort to bring together all plans under one document.

Councilmember Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward), who represents the neighborhood, defended the plan's emphasis on marketing.

"They want folks to know they exist. They want to attract folks to the community, and with that, they're going to have to market their neighborhood," she said.

Johnson Lee suggested city leaders communicate their expectations to neighborhoods earlier in the process, rather than ripping into plans when they reach the City Council.

"We don't give them a whole lot of guidelines, and when they come before us, we have a tendency to be very critical with no guidelines. I think that is a flaw in the system for us, and I think we have to be fair," she said. "If we're going to pull the reigns in, that needs to be communicated to every neighborhood organization."

Jim Grabek, chair of the North Loop Neighborhood Association, said he needed to review the comments and speak with other neighborhood leaders before he could comment on the criticism.

But he added, "I and the rest of the board support the NRP Phase I plan of the North Loop Neighborhood as submitted to the City Council 100 percent."

The North Loop Neighborhood Association's board of directors unanimously approved the plan Sept. 24.

Schiff and Goodman also questioned whether the NRP plan paid enough attention to improving Downtown's public safety.

"Not one penny is being spent on public safety," said Goodman, who represents most of Downtown except North Loop.

So-called "nuisance" crimes, such as public urination, panhandling and street-drug dealing have been on the radar screens for Downtown neighborhoods for months. Grabek pledged at a December neighborhood meeting to work with other Downtown leaders to combat the problem.

While the North Loop NRP plan does not set aside money for crime prevention, it does outline two "livability" objectives. First, the neighborhood association would encourage residents to sign up for a crime notification e-mail list serve and promote community-based crime-prevention programs such as the Restorative Justice program. North Loop leaders would also work with the Police Department to identify spots to install surveillance cameras.

The City Council committee approved a motion to send the development blueprint back to the NRP Policy Board for further review. (NRP is designed so neighborhoods can direct some public spending, which must be approved by the city and the multijurisdictional Policy Board.) In particular, the committee requested further analysis of the plan's marketing strategy.

Besides focusing on planning and marketing, North Loop has proposed $75,000 to bolster "neighborhood identity" and $8,000 toward an "Explore the North Loop" program, which would raise awareness about the neighborhood's arts, historical and entertainment groups.