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Metro Transit outlines big plans for North Loop campus

Above: The future Heywood II bus barn site, covered in grass, blocks away from Target Field.

Metro Transit is gearing up for a big expansion of its North Loop headquarters, anchored by a massive bus garage and new home for the transit agency's police department.

The plans are taking shape just outside of downtown Minneapolis, blocks away from Target Field and a site proposed for a new pro-soccer stadium. Dubbed the "West Loop" by local architects, the largely industrial area has drawn a lot of attention from planners and developers who believe light rail and other amenities make future growth there inevitable.

But the campus' second bus garage, which has been in the works for many years, will eventually become a component of that broader development puzzle once it is built -- possibly by 2018. The 10-acre project is expected to cost more than $100 million after land expenses, said agency spokesman Howie Padilla.

The agency is simultaneously hoping to consolidate some existing facilities into the new garage and make its 24-acre Heywood campus generally more inviting to walkers, in part by hiding some of the parking that now dominates the streetscape. The Fred T. Heywood office building along 6th Avenue is surrounded by a sea of parking, in contrast to the dense new development springing up around the nearby Target Field Station.

“The environment around campus is changing quickly," Metro Transit planner Pierce Canser told Metropolitan Council Members last earlier this month. "In order to continue to be a good neighbor, the campus must reimagine its edges so it more fully integrates into its surroundings.”

Above: Parking in front of Metro Transit's Fred T. Heywood office building on 6th Avenue.

Canser said a new police department headquarters on 6th Avenue -- the department is currently located on Minnehaha Avenue -- will create a "strong face" to the nearby light rail station. Other campus changes include more logical building entrances, improved street crossings and a "green, multi-modal corridor" dividing the campus at 10th Avenue.

The rearrangement may also leave a key parcel of land facing 5th Street, now an employee parking lot, available for private transit-oriented development. The land is just down the street from a booming intersection, where a 78-unit apartment complex and Be The Match office building are rising beside the brand new Junction Flats apartments.

David Frank, North Loop neighborhood president and city economic development director, said the possible development site has ultra-dense zoning -- making it ideal for a larger building. 

So how does one of Minneapolis' most popular neighborhoods for new apartments feel about a bus garage consuming so much land? Frank says they're OK with it largely because of the size of the block, which once housed a large Ragstock store.

“If these were small blocks, and they were proposing to buy them up and clear them and vacate streets it would be a pretty different story," Frank said. "But these are already gigantic blocks where you can’t get through and it’s unclear what else you would do with them."

He added: "This is a neighborhood that’s so pro-transit, that we don’t mind having the impacts of that next to where we live.”

Architects at UrbanWorks, which has sketched a 20-year vision for the "West Loop" (a term they created) say the plan does not conflict with their hopes for the area. Consolidating some facilities on the garage site is an opportunity to "get the buildings and streets right," said Neil Reardon with UrbanWorks.

“That is, where possible have active uses on [the ground level] ... with good public realm at the streets, something that does not currently exist,” Reardon wrote in an e-mail.

Above: A rendering of the redesigned campus, featuring two bus garages topped by solar panels.

The police facility will be constructed first, with the project anticipated to be complete in November 2017. The bus garage, dubbed Heywood II, could finish the following summer. Land acquisition for the garage, which began in 2006, is nearly complete.

The garage will hold about 180 active buses, which will help alleviate a growing storage problem at the adjacent Heywood garage. Metro Transit lacks the capacity at its five garages to store its existing fleet, yet it has plans to expand services in the next several years.

“Sometimes we are in a position where at some of our garages we are storing our buses outside," Padilla said. "Which certainly isn’t the optimal position to be in here, six or seven months out of the year in Minnesota.”

Between the bus garage and police headquarters, it's expected that another 800 people will be working at the Heywood campus by 2020, according to a June presentation.

While the "West Loop" is today an industrial area, it could one day be surrounded by light rail stops. The Southwest line would feature a stop at Royalston, beside the city's farmers market just south of the Heywood campus. The proposed Bottineau line, meanwhile, would stop several blocks west of the existing bus garage at Van White Memorial Boulevard.

Below: Bold gold lines indicate land already purchased for the Heywood II facility, while other colors indicate sites yet to be purchased. The existing Heywood garage and office building are at the bottom-right of the image.

Poll: Minnesotans view police positively

Minnesotans’ opinions on police appear to be “overwhelmingly positive,” according to survey results released Monday by the state’s largest law enforcement organization.

Despite national and local fatal shootings by officers that have thrust police into a more scrutinizing spotlight, 90 percent of Minnesotans polled said they approved of the way their local police handled its job and 86 percent said their personal interactions with local police have been positive, according to the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA).

Out of 450 people surveyed on June 15 and 16, 85 percent said they trusted officers to have good judgment in their use of deadly force and 55 percent said that recent events around the country involving police haven't altered their perception of law enforcement in their local area at all.

"Let's face it; cops in Minnesota do a good job," said Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the MPPOA, during a teleconference call. "They buy into community involvement, they buy into community policing. They have for a number of years."

In the wake of widespread news coverage beginning last summer on fatal shootings of several black men by police and ensuing unrest around the country, some of the association's 8,500 members began to ask if Minnesotans were being impacted by national incidents, Flaherty said. The MPPOA setout to survey the general public about their feelings toward police, he said.

The survey, which was conducted by Pennsylvania polling firm Harper Polling, was restricted to registered voters and had a margin of error of +/-4.62 percent. About 83 percent of the respondents were white. Close to a third, lived in Ramsey or Hennepin counties.

Despite the results, Flaherty said that there was still more that law enforcement could do to improve interactions in different communities where trust in police may be lower.

Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, wasn't impressed by the association's new report calling it "nonsensical." She said the report participants were generally older and white and had to be registered voters, which also limited the diversity of the pool.

"I think the results truly do not reflect the opinions of people in urban areas particularly young, black people of color," Gross said.

She said the MPPOA should have spent its money on addressing the problems with policing instead of engaging in what she called a public relations campaign.

"It’s not about individual police officers...What do you think about the system of policing? When it comes to the system of policing we have a problem because police are not held accountable," Gross said.

See below for poll results and demographic breakdowns.

Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association poll on opinions on police