Pledging to put feedback from the community front and center, a Minneapolis City Council committee on Tuesday approved a 48-acre riverfront redevelopment project with changes designed to win over its critics.
The plan for the former Upper Harbor Terminal, an industrial zone that fronts the Mississippi River in north Minneapolis, now moves to the full council for a vote March 1.
The project would be a major redevelopment of the land, adding parks, housing, other community facilities and, most contentiously, an amphitheater run by First Avenue Productions.
Council Members Phillipe Cunningham and Jeremiah Ellison, who represent North Side wards, introduced several changes to the plan Tuesday that would give greater say to the surrounding neighborhoods. The changes were added in response to a strong backlash from community and environmental activists who said they were not consulted on the project and felt it would push residents out of the North Side.
“There were points in this process that were incredibly frustrating for both of us,” Ellison said. “Getting to this point where we have a plan where community voices are centered, I think was both of our intentions.”
The amendments stated the project’s commitment to racial equity, sustainability, green job creation and affordable housing. They also strengthened the role of a committee of North Side residents that would advise the city on the project.
“They wouldn’t have been having these conversations and those amendments … had we not been waging this battle for months and months and months,” said Emmanuel Ortiz, a member of a community group pushing for “co-creation” on the site. “Any positive thing that was injected into that came from us.”
Audua Pugh of Minneapolis saw reason to celebrate.
“Today we have a win. Today they were listening,” she said.
According to the amendments, the city would look at putting the property in a public trust. It would fight possible gentrification and partner with Minneapolis Public Schools for music education opportunities on the site. The city will seek guidance from residents about putting a hotel, hostel, community center or banquet hall on the land.
By May, the city will appoint members to its community engagement committee. A more detailed plan would be ready next year, and construction would begin in 2021 or 2022.
“We ultimately want the same thing. I just ask for folks to stay energized and remain engaged,” Cunningham said. “The concept plan approval is just the beginning of our journey together.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Council President Lisa Bender and Council Member Kevin Reich attended the meeting to show their support for the plan with the new amendments.
“Community first has got to mean community first. That means putting people of color, especially those from north Minneapolis, as primary beneficiary,” Frey said. “While we are only a concept plan at this stage, I think we’re going in the right direction.”
People who showed up to rally against the plan before the meeting saw the additions to the concept plan as an expected compromise.
“It’s a wait-and-see, whether or not they’re going to follow through on their amendments,” said Catherine Fleming, a member of the co-creation team. “Right now it’s just some words on paper.”
They were especially critical of the proposed performing arts center, which would be run by First Avenue. Before the vote, they surrounded First Avenue CEO Dayna Frank and peppered her with questions, asking her to tell the council to delay the approval. She said it was the council’s decision.