A roadmap for the future

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January 2, 2012
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss
Downtown Council’s 2025 plan sets bold goals for the city

A new plan for downtown Minneapolis crafted by the Downtown Council envisions a future that includes doubling the downtown population, a revitalized Nicollet Mall, a sports district, improved transit and a greener, safer city. The largest plan for downtown in 15 years, the Intersections Downtown 2025 plan was crafted by a group of business leaders as an effort to define Minneapolis as a “flourishing 21st-century city.”

The plan has an estimated price tag of $2 billion, but no funding mechanisms have yet been decided on. Here is a detailed
breakdown of the plan’s 10 main goals.

1. Double downtown’s population
A healthy population is key to a vibrant city, and the Downtown Council hopes to double the downtown residential population to 70,000. Along with 3 million square feet of additional office space, 1,100 more hotel rooms and 20,000 of new retail space, the plan calls for 15,000 more housing units downtown. The plan would accomplish this by demolishing the Metrodome to establish a new neighborhood on the site.

Creating that kind of population growth will require a multifaceted approach, said Minneapolis Director of Transit Development David Frank. “I spend most of every day on the supply side. We need to make our city excel at having living, working and recreation activities, and we need to have it near transit,” Frank said. “There’s also the demand side, which I think is a bigger topic. How do we get more people to move here? That is a sociological demographics conversation.” He suggested that focusing on making Minneapolis’ public schools the best in the state would draw families back from the suburbs to the city.

2. Transform Nicollet Mall into a “must see” destination
The plan calls for the extension of the mall segment of Nicollet Avenue both north and south, envisioning a Nicollet Mall that extends from the Walker Art Center to the riverfront. Plazas, water features, trees and public art would be added along its length, along with curbless walking areas that share space with silent electric transit vehicles.

Sarah Harris, chief operating officer of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, said that a new vision for Nicollet Mall is needed and already underway. “The Mall is falling apart,” she said. “But we know a lot about how to recreate it into something lasting. If we can get some funds in place, we can work with the community to get some designs in place and probably start construction by 2013.”

3. Build Gateway Park
At the north end of Nicollet Mall, the plan would create Gateway Park, a green space connecting the Central Business District to the riverfront. The surface parking lot north of the Central Library would become a “Central Park” for the city.

Harris said the first step toward the creation of Gateway Park would be securing the land. The property is actually made up of several strips and owned by a mix of public and private groups.

4. Create a consistently compelling downtown experience
The plan calls to improve the pedestrian atmosphere downtown and focus on downtown as a center for creativity and design. It refers to Nicollet, Hennepin and 1st avenues the “triple spine” of downtown. This is likely one of the first aspects of the plan that will become reality — the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s effort to develop Hennepin Avenue into an “arts corridor” is already underway and has been incorporated into the 2025 plan.

“By next September you should see an arts corridor plan,” said Hennepin Theatre Trust CEO Tom Hoch. “What we’re thinking about is how do we utilize arts and culture to make a more vibrant street. And Hennepin is just a starting point.”

5. Establish a downtown sports district
While Mayor Rybak is calling for a new Vikings stadium on the Metrodome site, the Downtown Council’s plan calls for a sports district on the west side of downtown with a new Vikings stadium. The plan does not specify a preference for either of the western sites, the Farmers Market or the Linden Avenue site. It would also adopt the proposed renovations of Target Center and complete The Interchange, the planned transportation hub at Target Field.

A new Vikings stadium remains one of the most contentious topics in Minnesota politics. Before a site can be chosen, the Legislature will need to find a politically viable funding source, a tough task Governor Dayton hopes to resolve in the 2012 session.

6. Lead the nation in transportation options

With increased density comes a greater reliance on public transit. The plan hopes to see public transportation make up 60 percent of the daily commuter trips downtown. Along with the Interchange, another proposed addition to the mass transit infrastructure would be a downtown circulator, either in the form of streetcars or electric buses.

Several high-profile transportation projects are currently underway. Along with the Interchange Project, a study is looking at the feasibility of a trolley line running from Columbia Heights down Central Avenue through downtown. Work continues on the Central Corridor Light Rail project.

7. Create and sustain green infrastructure

The plan calls for “green corridors” with improved tree canopies, as well as beautified freeway embankments and other entry points. It positions the riverfront as the green focal point for downtown and would establish a Greening and Public Realm Conservancy to maintain the greenery in the city.

Harris said that she’s pleased to see green infrastructure receive attention equal to other issues. “The whole notion of greening downtown is a big part of what DID’s mission is,” said Harris. “Minneapolis has a renowned tree canopy, but that stops at downtown. This is a recognition that isn’t something we want.”

8. Forge connections to the University of Minnesota
The city has always been somewhat disconnected from the University of Minnesota. The 2025 plan would change that by extending green corridors over the freeway to link the University and downtown. The proposed development of the Metrodome site into a new neighborhood would be a key element of bridging the divide.

“It’s something we’ve been advocating at EPNI for a while. The ideal situation would be to tear down the Metrodome and start rebuilding there as soon as possible,” said David Fields, community development director for Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. “The plan talked about doubling the downtown population, but where are they going to go? They’ll have to come to Downtown East.”

9. End street homelessness
By extending housing and outreach efforts to the 300 to 500 people who sleep outside in downtown, Minneapolis would be the first major city to eliminate street homelessness. Of course, it is not a problem that can permanently be solved — keeping homeless individuals off the streets and in shelters requires a continual influx of funding and volunteers.

10. Launch a festival of ideas
An annual festival of ideas and civic engagement focused on creating a better future would bring visitors from around the world. Not only would this increase regular tourism, it would promote Minneapolis as a forward-thinking hotbed of creativity.

“The component of the Downtown 2025 plan that calls for a festival of ideas and civic engagement will be the plan’s lifeblood,” said Melvin Tennant, president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis. “In order for Minneapolis and the organizations that work with the Minneapolis Downtown Council to remain relevant, we must all make an intentional effort to innovate and adapt. Such a festival has the potential to become a signature event that defines us as a community.”

Moving Forward
Now that the Downtown Council’s board of directors has officially adopted the Downtown 2025 plan, the real work begins. The 2025 plan has not been officially endorsed by the City of Minneapolis, although the goals of the city and the Downtown Council align on many points.

“Although I wish there was more meaningful participation by downtown residents in this process, especially on some of the details that affect land use around residential properties, I do think that for the most part the interests and vision of downtown residents is similar to the business community leadership who researched and wrote this plan,” said City Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7).

The Downtown Council’s plans have several recognizable projects it can point to as proof of the wisdom of its plans. The 2010 plan included the Central Library, a new Twins stadium and a light rail system.

“This begins the process of dedicating ourselves to 14 years of work,” said Sam Grabarski, present and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

The council’s leaders will soon decide how to implement a committee structure to move forward on the plan’s many initiatives.

Some of the goals, such as a push to renovate Nicollet Mall, are already gaining momentum, Grabarski noted. The renovation is expected to cost about $58 million. It tops the city of Minneapolis’ bonding priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

Reach Jeremy Zoss at jzoss@mnpubs.com