Mayoral candidates discuss development, name favorite spots in the city

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September 27, 2013 // UPDATED 10:53 pm - September 27, 2013
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Seven Minneapolis mayoral candidates shared their thoughts on urban design and sustainable development at a candidate forum sponsored by AIA Minneapolis and the Urban Land Institute last night at the International Market Square.

Three of the candidates also spoke out against the streetcar plan endorsed by a City Council committee earlier this week — a 3.4-mile line that would run from Lake Street to Northeast along Nicollet and cross the river on the Hennepin Avenue bridge. The price tag for the streetcar plan is estimated to range from $180–$200 million. City leaders plan to create a Value Capture District along the proposed line that would allow the city to issue an estimated $60 million in bonds for the project.

Here are highlights of the debate moderated by Nick Koch, associate vice president at HGA Architects and Engineers.

>>> Candidate responses when asked for their thoughts on density and transit:

Business executive Stephanie Woodruff said “we’ve got to have transit-oriented, sustainable growth.” She said she’d like to see more development along the riverfront. “We have to make the river our front door,” she said.

As for streetcars, she said she likes them, but is not a fan of the financing plan for the Nicollet streetcar line.

 Former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew said if elected his administration would push to grow the city’s population by 100,000 over the next 20 years. In order to make that happen, he would work to improve the quality of the schools, create a more favorable tax climate for residents and focus on investments in transit. “Transit is integral to density. It leads to everything,” he said.

Andrew referenced his leadership on advancing light rail and said he’s supportive of the proposed Nicollet streetcar line and another one linking Washington Avenue and West Broadway, but said he’s “not quite there on the financing.”

Park Board Commissioner Bob Fine said he has a lot of experience negotiating big development deals for the Park Board. New trails planned for the North and Northeast riverfront will encourage new development, he said.

To clear the path for more development in the city, Fine would sit down with the planning department and look at revising the entire plan for the city to make it easier for developers to navigate the city process.

Fine also spoke against the streetcar plan and said “it’s way too costly.”

City Council Member Don Samuels (Ward 5) said he’d like to see other light rail lines and is a supporter of the city’s streetcar plan. He said density makes sense along the transit corridors. He also said the streetcar lines in Portland have been responsible for $3.5 billion in new investment in the city.

 

 Wind power attorney Cam Winton said the city does a good job of attracting 20-somethings, but needs to a better job of keeping people in their 30s who get turned off by the high property taxes and quality of the schools.

Winton has been the most outspoken critic of the city’s streetcar plan of the mayoral candidates. He said he would prefer enhanced bus service with heated bus shelters along the Nicollet-Central corridor and said the evidence of economic development benefits of streetcar lines in other parts of the country “are unproven at best.”

City Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) said she would work to increase the city’s population to 500,000 if elected. To reach that milestone she would push an aggressive transit agenda that includes enhanced bus lines, streetcars, bike lanes and LRT, among other modes.

She said when people object to density it’s often about the density of cars, not people. Development along transit corridors makes it easier for people to live in the city without a car, she noted.

Former City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes said: “We don’t as a city have a vision about where we’re going. … That comes from having a strong planning department that is visionary and doing the thinking about where our city should go.”

She said the department needs a strong leader so there’s a unified vision.

“A lot of the anxiety about density can be addressed with good design,” she said. 

>>> Responses when asked what they would do as mayor to ensure the city supports a full range of housing choices to accommodate and retain young families and aging seniors:

—   Fine said he would look at redoing the city’s overall development plan to make it very clear for developers where specific types of housing development is needed.

—   Samuels said the variety of housing downtown is very important because it’s an attractive place for both seniors and young people. As mayor he would advocate for a new downtown school and more parks to help retain young families.

—   Winton said he would work to cut red tape as mayor to make it easier for developers to do business in the city. He would also push to allow for online permit applications so people don’t have to waste time making a trip downtown.

—   Hodges said the city has a handful of tools to help incentivize the development of affordable housing, including the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is at about $7 million. She also referenced the Green Homes North project, an initiative to build 100 new energy efficient homes over the next five years in North Minneapolis.

Hodges also wants to create a group to come up with 10 great ideas for ways to develop new affordable housing in the city.

—   Cherryhomes said she cut her teeth on affordable housing in North Minneapolis. “I start with the value that everyone has the right to a safe and affordable place to live,” she said, adding everyone should have the right to “live in the neighborhood of their choice.”

She said the city has as “bunch of financial tools that are in conflict with one another,” making it tough for people to pursue affordable housing development.

—   Woodruff talked about her experience going through a foreclosure on a home near Lake Harriet. She said she was “shocked” to find out how hard it was to find an affordable place to live in the city when she was looking for an apartment. She said transit-oriented development is crucial and again pointed to the riverfront as a prime spot for new development.

—   Andrew said “we are on the precipice of a real explosion that’s going to allow us to create more diversity in our housing stock in Minneapolis.” He noted there are thousands of rental units in the development pipeline. He said he would reach out to state and federal leaders to address the affordable housing issue.

He also said he would push for a downtown school to encourage more families to live downtown.

>>> Responses when asked to name their favorite place in the Twin Cities:

—   Woodruff said she loves a garden area near the Target wing of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

—   Andrew first said Minneapolis, then picked the Midtown Greenway.

—   Fine said he was going to say the MIA, but didn’t want to copy Woodruff so he named a building that used to be home to the Minnesota Theater at 9th & LaSalle.

—   Samuels picked the International Market Square, the venue for the forum. It used to be a Munsingwear factory and has a cool helix stairwell.

—   Winton picked a 10-minute walking path from Lake of the Isles to the Walker Art Center with the skyline as a backdrop.

—   Hodges named several spots: anyplace that serves breakfast all day, the Central Library, City Hall and the Elf House at Lake Harriet.

—   Cherryhomes singled out the Cowles Center, the Central Library and the IDS Crystal Court.

(To listen to audio from the debate, click here.)