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A view of Nicollet Mall's north end. The Minneapolis Downtown Council released an ambitious plan for the city's central core which includes a rehab of the area.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

GATEWAY PARK

The park's central feature would be a large public gathering space north of the Central Library.

NICOLLET MALL

Extend and reinvent the mall, beginning at the Walker Art Center, through Loring Park and down to the Mississippi River at the foot of the Father Hennepin Bridge.

ARTS CORRIDOR

Expanding on the Hennepin Avenue arts district, from the Walker Art Center down to the Mississippi River.

DOWNTOWN SPORTS DISTRICT

Centered around Target Field with its busy transit hub, it also would include a renovated Target Center and an option for a Vikings stadium.

Downtown plan turns heart of Minneapolis into its soul

  • Article by: JANET MOORE and ERIC ROPER
  • Star Tribune
  • December 15, 2011 - 8:33 AM

The most ambitious plan for downtown Minneapolis in 15 years envisions a stadium district, a chain of parks, a revitalized Nicollet Mall and 70,000 people calling the city's core home.

Spearheaded by the Downtown Council, a group of business leaders, the Downtown 2025 plan to be released Wednesday calls for doubling the number of residents, in part by leveling the Metrodome to make way for a new neighborhood.

The far-ranging blueprint connects the district's assets -- including the Walker Art Center and Guthrie Theater, corporate headquarters, sports venues, rail and bus transportation -- to create a "flourishing 21st-century city."

The plan envisions a walkable, bustling streetscape that begins at the Walker, moves through Loring Park to Peavey Plaza along Nicollet Mall to an expanded Gateway Park ending at the riverfront by the Hennepin Avenue bridge, much like Boston's Back Bay, San Antonio's River Walk and the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

The plan also offers a clear-eyed view of downtown's weaknesses, including transit and road systems that are difficult to navigate, persistent homelessness, perceptions of crime and the lack of green space. Downtown 2025 takes aim at the city's storied skyways, which it blames for robbing streets of pedestrian and retail traffic.

Its recommendation to put a Vikings stadium near Target Field also conflicts with Mayor R.T. Rybak's effort to keep the Vikings on a redeveloped Metrodome site.

If realized, the plan would require a $2 billion investment in infrastructure alone, drawn from public and private coffers.

"These are very aggressive goals, but it's all possible, and it will take time," said Sam Grabarski, president and CEO of the Downtown Council.

Urban planning and real estate experts warn that current economic conditions, as well as budgetary challenges facing the state, Hennepin County and the city could dampen the plan's expansive goals -- at least for the time being.

The Downtown Council has crafted five such plans since 1959. The previous guide, released in 1996, saw most of its vision realized: an enhanced skyway system, a street cleanup squad, a surge in residential growth, light rail, a central library, a redeveloped Block E and a new Twins stadium.

The 2025 plan took 18 months to complete and involved a diverse task force of about 90 participants, ranging from downtown residents to corporate titans.

"The two greatest strengths of the plan involves not only focusing on the assets of the city and understanding what really draws people downtown, but also what detracts from that experience," said John Shardlow of Roseville-based Stantec Consulting Inc.

The core of the 2025 plan involves not only doubling the current residential population of 34,000 people, but broadening the current mix of young professionals and empty-nesters to include young families. To that end, it proposes a new public school for downtown.

"There is a steady trend in interest in downtown living," Grabarski said. "There are [young families] who are not interested in buying a nice big home in the suburbs and deciding that the urban lifestyle is right for them."

But Ed Goetz, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute, said attracting young families downtown "is a little bit of a reach. The Twin Cities already have an abundance of places for young families."

The plan favors a Vikings Stadium for either the Linden Avenue or Farmers Market sites near Target Field to create a "downtown sports district" that also would feature a renovated Target Center.

'Work with current resources'

"We have to figure out how to work with our current resources," said John Griffith, Target's executive vice president for property development, who chaired the steering committee. "We have to take the good stuff that we have [Target Field and Target Center] and build on it."

However, the plan could complicate the city's efforts to lobby legislators for a Vikings stadium in Minneapolis. Rybak has thrown his weight behind the Metrodome site, but the 2025 plan suggests replacing the Metrodome with "a small lake, surrounded by a leafy urban village of new homes, shops and ball fields."

Rybak doesn't think the downtown plan will derail his Vikings stadium pitch, since the business community's position on the matter wasn't a secret.

"I believe the Metrodome site is a better site, but I definitely agree with all the positive points that are made in the plan about the area on the west side of downtown," the mayor said Tuesday.

Rybak said "the single biggest difference between this and previous plans is it spends more time thinking about not just how many things we have downtown, but how they all connect." That includes "the pedestrian experience, the links between different types of buildings, weaving everything into a 24-hour, multi-faceted, incredibly energized place."

He said he expects the city's largest role implementing the plan -- at least in the short term -- will be in the transformation of Nicollet Mall and the "greening" of the city's core.

The plan proposes reviving the lost northern blocks of Nicollet so it ends at the Hennepin Avenue bridge. The mall would be curbless, with zero-emission vehicles offering free shuttle service.

Peavey Plaza and Gateway Park would be available for activities and performances, drawing from the burgeoning arts district on Hennepin Avenue. The city plans to request funding for the Nicollet Mall redevelopment in the next state bonding bill.

jmmoore@startribune.com • 612-673-7752 eric.roper@startribune.com • 612-673-1732

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