Downtown too industrial? No, too quiet, say residents

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June 28, 2004 // UPDATED 2:16 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

More retail activity would round out a surprisingly sane neighborhood scene, according to newcomers

Cynthia Kriha and her husband had outgrown their 1920s southwest Minneapolis home, so in January, they moved to the riverfront Humboldt Lofts, 750 S. 2nd St., thinking more about a new lifestyle than a new neighborhood.

Her biggest surprise turned out to be Downtown's quietness.

"We face the grain elevators in the back, so we are not facing Downtown," she said. "Depending on whether you face the street or face the back, people have different perspectives about the noise."

Kriha liked living in her old home, she said. She had great neighbors and enjoyed going to Java Jacks, 818 W. 46th St.. Yet she and her husband wanted a bigger kitchen and a second bathroom, and the condo gave them what they wanted without having to buy a huge house. It also gave them easy access to restaurants, theaters, Orchestra Hall concerts and Twins games, all venues they enjoyed.

Within months, however, a land-use battle disturbed Kriha's peace. Crown Hydro proposed building a hydroelectric plant on St. Anthony Falls' west bank near the growing Downtown residential development.

The backers had floated the project for years. It came as a surprise to Kriha and many of her new neighbors.

Many residents opposed the plant, saying it created an industrial feel and hurt neighborhood aesthetics.

The argument left power plant backers dumbstruck. Not only was the powerhouse underground, they said, but for more than a century, St. Anthony Falls provided the city's industrial heartbeat.

Crown Hydro provided the kind of conflict that helps create a neighborhood. Kriha and other residents organized, circulated petitions and brought heavy pressure on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and, for now, stopped the Crown Hydro lease.

What do people Downtown residents expect from their neighborhood and what surprises, if any, do they find when they get here?

Some Downtown newcomers who exchanged yard chores for an easy walk to entertainment and dining expressed frustration -- not at the commercial/industrial core's clatter, but at the lack of amenities such as a grocery store, dry cleaners or nearby breakfast joint.

Blake Graham, the city's manager of zoning and development controls, said he gets occasional noise complaints from new condo owners from the suburbs who moved next to an industrial area. They may be upset by early morning truck traffic, coming, for example, from the Star Tribune printing plant at the North Loop's north end.

"This isn't Orono," Graham said. "You are in pretty much the heart of Downtown Minneapolis. It does have a mix of uses. The noise is something that one generally would expect to find in a location like this."

Despite the static Graham sporadically receives, interviews with 15 Downtown residents found few if any noise and congestion complaints. Some sought the Downtown buzz and others, similar to Kriha, expressed surprise at the relative quiet.

Suesan Lea Pace, a Downtown attorney in her mid-50s, moved into the North Loop's Rock Island Lofts, 111 4th Ave. N., this spring, looking for a change in lifestyle -- and Downtown energy, she said. "I wanted to be part of the scene going on down here."

Pace's clients include Prior Lake, a city facing housing density battles. For her personally, density is a plus, she said.

Pace previously lived in South Minneapolis' Hale-Page neighborhood, and she watched her block turn over from people her age to young families, she said.

"Although my neighborhood was wonderful, there still was a degree of isolation," she said, walking her French Poodle Sammy in the North Loop. "Down here, my experience is the friendliness of the people is amazing."

(She already knows the names of five dogs, if not their owners' names, she said.)

Ron Abrahamson and his wife Gloria moved to the Heritage Landing, 401 1st St. N., five years ago, after living in New Brighton for 18 years. The kids grew up and one day he realized he didn't want to trim the bushes any more, he said. Abrahamson, the director of the Twin Cities Marathon, said he and his wife enjoy running along the river.

"It is quieter than I expected," he said, a comment echoed by Fritz Kroll, who said his Downtown residence is quieter than the Uptown abode he left two years ago.

Kroll moved to Lindsay Lofts, 408 1st St. N. in part because of Schaefer, his aging 145-pound Newfoundland. Schaefer couldn't do steps anymore, so Kroll wanted something on one level.

Kroll, a North Loop Neighborhood Association member, said the biggest neighborhood battle was over Northern Auto salvage yard, 643 N. 5th St., which wanted to use car crushers. Generally, noise issues don't come up, he said.

"The thing that is most attractive about the North Loop -- specifically the pocket between Washington and the riverfront -- it is all so residential," he said. "Everyone wants a little more retail. It is kind of nice having it predominantly residential."

If there's a test case for balancing urban living and urban industry, you might find him across the river and towards the University of Minnesota. Ben Beuchler moved into the 221-unit Stone Arch Apartments, 601 SE Main St., nestled between the University of Minnesota steam plant and steel tube maker Metal-Matic, 629 SE 2nd St.

Beuchler said he was more surprised by the area's parking problems than its industrial noise.

"The steam plant is annoying at times. It is not that big a deal. The building is built well," he said, adding he never hears Metal-Matic on the apartment's opposite side.

The apartment building's amenities include an open floor plan, taller ceilings, and more parks and open space nearby, Beuchler said. He used to live in an apartment in southwest Minneapolis -- next to a bus stop.

"I find that [bus noise] much more annoying," he said. "I find this neighborhood much more appealing."

Beuchler's neighbors Cassandra James and Dave Forsberg said noise lags behind other neighborhood issues, such as parking, crime and the occasional foul odor from the mill area.

Admittedly, the steam plant "screeches" and "rumbles" in the winter and "can go off in the middle of the night," Forsberg said.

Yet they don't hear it in their unit. On this spring day, they are eating on their patio, and the occasional airplane overflights are far more deafening than the steam plant hum.

Forsberg and James said the benefits outweigh any drawbacks. "It's like being in the North woods with the trees and the landscaping -- a little piece of heaven in Minneapolis," James said.

These newcomers do worry Downtown could get too much of a good thing, such as the proposed massive condo redevelopment of the Pillsbury "A" Mill. It could "overpopulate and overrun" their neighborhood, James said.

Over at 801 Washington Ave. N., Ivan Brown moved into a new loft along the city's old industrial corridor. The urban hardscape offers no trees or greenery, just rows of parking meters.

"I live in the back. It is very quiet at night -- very little traffic," he said. "It is not as loud as one would think it would be."

The streets need repair and the area needs more services, such as a grocery store and dry cleaners, Brown said.

The most unexpected thing about the move came from his neighbors.

"We have a great sense of community," he said. "We all hang out in the back yard."