An advocate for density

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June 20, 2011
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss
City’s first director of transit development outlines vision for new role

“More people.”

Asked if he could add anything in the universe to Minneapolis’ transit system, that is David Frank’s answer. Not additional light rail lines, not personal rapid transit or flying cars. Simply more people.

In Frank’s mind, bringing more people to Minneapolis will solve all kinds of issues, and not just those directly related to transit. More people will mean better restaurants, better public safety, lower property taxes, more arts, more sports — just about any issue you can think of would be solved with more people, he suggests. “We need people to move here and stay here, and then lots of good things can happen.”

Frank’s job isn’t simply to figure out a way to get more people on buses or riding their bikes — although that figures into it.

“My goal is to grow the tax base,” he said. “The tactical way I’m doing that is focusing on station areas and corridors where public has chosen to invest in transit and doing everything that I can to focus the growth that we have to have around those areas.”

While Frank’s task is big, he indeed has a way of making it seem simple. “I’m a big fan of the ideas that can be said simply and clearly,” he said.

His function, he explains, is to maximize the potential of areas around existing transit projects. A small industrial operation near a light rail stop may generate property tax revenue for the city, but a mixed-use retail/residential development on the same site would generate more. Frank works to connect those landowners near transit projects with developers interested in such projects. The more projects that get built, the more attractive the area becomes to the people of the community, and the more the tax base grows.

“He brings the perspective of a developer, which is very helpful,” said Anna Flintoft, a transportation planner for the City of Minneapolis. “He really understands the vision of what we’re trying to achieve as a city. He’s also a really good communicator, which is great.”

That vision includes a more muti-modal city, one in which people have more options on how to get around than just jumping in their cars. “Transit gives people choices, more options not to get into a car,” Frank said. “It makes a community more connected, it reduces greenhouse gases.”

Frank has at least one way he plans to measure whether he’s helping the city move in a positive direction.

“A group of Humphrey students asked me how they’ll know if I did a good job,” says Frank. “I told them to look at places where I’m supposed to be working. Look at property taxes. If there are more property taxes in a few years, I did my job.”

The places where he’s supposed to be working include those you would expect, such as along the Hiawatha Light Rail line, the Central Corridor and the Midtown Greenway. Frank makes it seem obvious — wherever there is a project like light rail, bus rapid transit or high-frequency bus routes, he’ll be working to grow the tax base in the area.

“I’m one of those people where work and my personal interests are very much aligned,” he says. “My work life is devoted to very urban issues about making development happen, and my volunteer life is about the issues around those buildings, what it’s like for the people who live and work and play in urban environments.”

That volunteer life includes his duties as the chair of the North Loop Neighborhood Association (NLNA). His family relocated to the neighborhood from Portland and joined the board of the NLNA after only a few months in the area, co-chairing the planning and zoning committee. For the past several years he’s served as the organization’s president and had a say in projects like the development of Target Field.

Schafer Richardson co-founder Kit Richardson spoke highly of Frank. “Now the city will get a great person who is talented and smart and someone who will really get things done. He
understands what makes a good city.”

During his time with Schafer Richardson, Frank helped guide North Loop projects such as the Basset Creek Lofts, the 710, 720 and 730 Lofts, as well as other high-profile developments like the Phoenix
on The River project.

Despite all his experiences, Frank was set on his path by happenstance.

“I love telling people this. I was an English major,” Frank said. “I got into real estate in Portland as temp job. It turned out to be the perfect personality fit. That was the grand plan. I had or have no advanced degree or training in real estate. I fell into it.”

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