This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

What the NYT got wrong about Minneapolis

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture, Newspapers Updated: May 28, 2014 - 12:25 PM

Isn’t it great that Downtown East is providing a ray of hope for our tired, shuttered, depopulated, aging, tumbledown urban core? The New York Times thinks so. Downtown East is placed in Context straight away, one of those big projects the little cities out in provinces hope will turn around their fortunes.

The blueprint for a bustling downtown stands in stark contrast to the status quo: crumbling asphalt parking lots, tired buildings and limited housing.

The status quo for where, exactly? I’ve rarely seen a parking lot that could be described as crumbling. Tired buildings? You mean the refurbished low-income transitional housing here, or the rehabbed warehouse that’s now residential here, or the adjacent office building that looks as good as it’s ever looked? StarTribune World HQ may be tired on the inside here and there, but outside it’s still stark and clean, and the Armory, while in need of an overhaul, isn’t exactly a weary pile awaiting the sweet release of the wrecking ball. The Juvie center and the adjacent office structure are hardly old. There’s one Tired Building in the area, and it’s a nondescript old industrial building. The Haaf Ramp? Not tired. The jail? Not tired. The Freeman Building? Not tired; dead and gone, and hooray for that.

Limited housing? I’ll admit you have to walk an entire block to get to the rows and rows of condos on Washington, and the journey may deplete one so much the rest of the residential renaissance of downtown must wait for another day. If you knew nothing of Minneapolis, you’d conclude it was a barren expanse where the only residents were rummies in SROs working on a pint of Sno-Shoe.

Next:

Emily Dussault, an actor and city resident, welcomes the redevelopment. “When people visit, they anticipate a really exciting and fun place, and we’re like, ‘No, let’s go somewhere else,’ ” she said. Ms. Dussault said she steered out-of-town friends to the more artsy neighborhoods of Uptown and Northeast.

Because there’s nothing to do downtown. If only it had restaurants and bars.

Note that the person quoted “welcomes the redevelopment,” which has nothing in the way of an entertainment quotient.

Many cities have tried to generate urban renewal around a big project like a new stadium with mixed success over the years. It is often hard to persuade those who left for the suburbs to return.

Which is not the point of the project. At all. I don’t remember the part where they unveiled the twin towers of the Wells Fargo project and said “this, and the hotel, will be the spur that brings people to live downtown. We anticipate demand so strong armed guards will be required to restore order after the announcement that the units have been sold.” Downtown East is not meant to revitalize downtown. It is meant to revitalize the few blocks known as Downtown East, thereby complimenting the substantial development that’s taken place nearby.

For Governor Dayton, reviving the downtown means making good on a childhood lesson. “My father and his brothers were retailers, and they preached the downtown,” he said. “If left to its own, development goes to greenfield sites on the outlying areas and you end up with a doughnut hole. Once you get behind the eight ball with a downtown in decay, it’s very, very difficult to turn that around.”

He’s absolutely right. This would be the point where the New York Times mentions exactly what sort of retailers his relatives were, and what happened to the store, and how this kicky little thing called “Target” came out of it, but TMI, I guess.

Then there’s some recaps about the nature of the deal and some rah-rah booster quotes, and this:

Mr. Collins recalled 18 “intense” months of negotiations, culminating in a four-day, Diet-Coke-infused stretch that involved 30 conference calls, 10 law firms and 59 documents and ended with the closing of the Star Tribune property.

Fifty-nine documents! People stop me on the street and ask how many documents were involved in the sale, and which soft drink infused the proceedings. Always felt bad I had to shrug and plead ignorance.

Many local residents express cautious optimism about the redevelopment, dimmed by the protracted battle over financing of the new Vikings stadium, which passed by a 7-6 City Council vote.

I hate it when optimism of the cautious variety is subjected to dimming, but I really don’t think anyone watching the project arise finds their heart snag on the Protruding Nail of Recollected Financing Battles. No one who looks at the renderings of the park puts a hand on their sternum, and thinks oh what unalloyed joy I would feel had not the process been so lengthy or contentious.

It’s in the cutline of the photo, too: “Battles over its financing have dimmed many residents’ optimism about the redevelopment project.” They may have affected how people view the project, inasmuch as some people were opposed to any public participation, but this was baked into the project, and it’s not as if a great blaring blast of optimism has been sullied because people remember the financing battles they had willed themselves to forget.

It’s almost as if a narrative is being imposed on the situation, but c’mon, how likely is that.

The story needed conflict, I guess, because “healthy downtown that never really hit rock bottom revels in a burst of activity” doesn’t have the right worried tone. Will the Downtown East revitalize downtown Minneapolis? One must look to Cleveland in 1973. No, one musn’t. From the sound of the article, Minneapolis has staked everything on one big development, when it’s a culmination of disparate projects that made Downtown East not the savior of the city, but the latest thing.

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