The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is close to approving a full plan to revitalize the riverfront north of Boom Island, pinpointing three projects that are likely to come together the soonest.
A full report, called RiverFIRST, outlines several projects and a framework for connecting the community to the upper river, the last major waterfront in the city that has no nearby trails.
Three projects are listed as the most immediate: paving bike and pedestrian trails along both sides of the river; developing a park at the former Scherer Bros. lumber site just north of Plymouth Avenue; and building a green space that would connect North Minneapolis to the river from Fairview Park via a green swath of land that would go over the top of I-94.
“It’s these projects that really rise to the top as far as the immediacy of implementation,” said Assistant Superintendent of Planning Bruce Chamberlain.
The Park Board is considering spending money to have a design team develop “schematic plans” that will give detailed cost estimates and push the projects closer to construction.
The Park Board already owns the Scherer Bros. site and has taken steps to clear it. It has also applied for federal grants through the Metropolitan Council for trails along the river.
RiverFIRST, in its entirety, is estimated to cost about $175 million, but includes many more projects such as biohavens on the river, wetlands on the west side of the river and a Gateway Park that would make a green connection Nicollet Mall to the river. The project targets a 5.5 mile stretch of riverfront north of downtown.
The Park Board has set aside about $25 million for riverfront development over the next five years in its capital improvement program.
“We need to be aggressive and forward thinking about how we can bring partners to the table and find other funding mechanisms in order to accomplish this aggressive project,” Chamberlain said.
Questions still surround the project. Some have complained that the Park Board hasn’t reached out to communities of color on the west side of the river for input.
Commission Jon Olson, who represents North Minneapolis, said the plan to connect his part of the city to the river via a land bridge isn’t large enough.
“A lot of people like the land bridge, and yeah I think it’s a great idea, but I think it’s far too small,” Olson said.
Reports shows positive economic signs in city
The unemployment rate for Minneapolis residents was down to 5.5 percent at the end of 2011, according to the city’s quarterly report on socioeconomic and housing trends.
While the city’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level since October 2008, job numbers remain steady. A year ago, 201,785 residents were employed, with an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent. Now, 204,682 people have jobs.
The 5.5 percent unemployment rate is similar to the metro’s rate of 5.3 percent, but well below the national average of 8.3 percent.
The report also shows that from March 2010 to June 2011, the city added 6,900 jobs, an increase of 2.5 percent. The biggest gains came in finance and insurance (1,100 net jobs); health care and social assistance (1,100 net jobs); professional and technical services (970 net jobs) and management of companies (790 net jobs).
Wages over the same period increased by 2.4 percent.
About 1,700 homes were foreclosed in 2011, down 26 percent from 2010, when foreclosures reached 2,300.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was scheduled to talk about the latest economic trends impacting the city March 7 at Open Access Technology International Inc. (OATI) in Northeast — after this edition of The Journal went to press.
OATI is a software solutions company that opened its Northeast headquarters in June 2011.