The seven-county metropolitan area population now tops 3 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau data distributed by the Metropolitan Council. Growth extended to exurbs, suburbs and particularly to central cities: St. Paul has grown by 5.4 percent since 2010 and now tops 300,000 residents for the first time since the 1970 census. Minneapolis grew at an even faster rate, 7.8 percent, to hit the 412,517 population mark.
The higher central-city density can bring environmental, public safety and tax-base benefits. It can also accelerate an urban vibrancy that’s so important to the talented younger workers whom Minnesota desperately needs to attract and retain in order to compete internationally.
Given those priorities, it’s critical that projects like the proposed 40-story condominium tower across the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis be not just allowed, but encouraged. Instead, the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission voted on May 3 to allow demolition of two buildings, but not to allow the high-rise to be built.
The City Council should overturn the commission’s decision and allow Minneapolis-based Alatus LLC to proceed.
The issue seems centered on the height of the building, which exceeds St. Anthony Falls Historic District guidelines. But residential towers of more than 20 stories already exist in the neighborhood, and the added residents help make possible the restaurants and retail that make the neighborhood so livable.
Some neighborhood residents are against the project. But even Erin Harney, a spokesperson for Neighbors for East Bank Livability, told an editorial writer that “the group will absolutely concede to the fact that the structure that Alatus is proposing is stunningly beautiful, and projects like this do create great cities.” But, she added, “they need to be placed properly. … On the other side of the river, this project would be great.”
Other neighbors embrace the project. The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association passed a resolution in support of it, and Hung Russell, co-chair of the association’s Land Use and Development Committee, told an editorial writer that Alatus has been receptive to the neighborhood’s concerns. And Minneapolis should be very receptive to the expanded tax base. Alatus estimates that the parcel’s annual real estate taxes would increase from about $42,000 to more than $2.6 million. The city needs more — not fewer — proposals like this.
While not yet taking an official position on the project, City Council Member Jacob Frey, whose Third Ward includes the neighborhood, told an editorial writer that “growth and preservation are not mutually exclusive. All over numerous different cities we’ve seen beautiful, modern structures erected in and among a historic fabric. And while I think there’s great incentive to preserve history and character, there’s also incentive to make our own history. So long as we’re retaining our historic fabric and character, I’m not afraid to live in 2016.”
Indeed, preservation is important. But so is adding high-quality residential development and expanding the city’s tax base.