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Mayor R.T. Rybak took a trip to the future Wednesday during his final state of the city speech, envisioning Minneapolis in 2025 as a larger, more diverse metropolis flourishing with better public transit and no racial achievement gaps.
The mayor’s speech at the Walker Art Center is the last in his 11-year tenure as mayor. At least six candidates are competing to replace him in a race that has touched on many of the themes Rybak raised Wednesday. The speech was intended to be a coda of sorts for Rybak’s years in office, delving into little new territory while revisiting many of his longtime goals.
Rybak imagined a city of 65,000 more residents where families and tourists are flocking to a safer north Minneapolis to live in new homes and admire flowering trees along Penn Avenue planted to replace those destroyed in the May 2011 tornado.
A new “Armory Yard” would surround the new Vikings stadium, Rybak said, featuring a Viking ship half-pipe for skaters, ropes courses, sports fields and concerts. Nicollet Mall would be transformed into “Nicollet Green,” an urban park peppered with sidewalk cafes, boutique retail and heated by steam from the county garbage incinerator.
“Minneapolis is a city in a park,” he said of the future Nicollet. “And now we have a park in the center of the city.”
The mayor also envisioned a city in which there was no dominant racial group, and his speech took a sci-fi turn with the prediction that climate change “set off a mass movement from the coasts into the center of the country.”
The candidates vying for his seat will be left with a city on better financial footing than when the mayor arrived in 2002, but marked by dramatically higher property taxes, anemic growth on the north side and widely-criticized regulatory burdens on businesses. The problems have arisen on the campaign trail as candidates vie for support ahead of next week’s DFL city caucuses.
Following the speech, DFL candidates looking to replace Rybak were largely in sync with the mayor’s vision.
Are the north Minneapolis goals doable? “We said we could go to the moon. And we did,” said Council Member Don Samuels. “This is Minnesota, we can go to the North Side.”
Independent Cam Winton, the only candidate not in the DFL party, said the city should streamline business regulation instead of meddling in the private market on the North Side and that money for streetcars should instead go to fixing crumbling roads.
In 2025, Rybak’s Minneapolis would be crisscrossed with streetcars, but getting just one streetcar has proved unattainable during Rybak’s tenure. As far back as 2003, Rybak said in his state of the city address that Minneapolis needed to “rebuild the streetcar city.” That goal remained at the top of Rybak’s transit agenda Wednesday. “We have done a lot of talking and thinking and planning and meeting about streetcars,” he said. “Folks, it is time to get this done.”
He said he intended to deliver a streetcar financing plan by the end of the year and urged support for Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed transit sales tax, which hangs in limbo at the Legislature.
The mayor drew applause when he said — still envisioning 2025 — that he still gets goose bumps riding a streetcar line through what used to be the back of the old Kmart building now blocking Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street. Mention of his plan to have a streetcar “busting right through the back of that Kmart” also drew applause at last year’s state of the city speech, but the city is not much further along.
Returning to the present, the mayor announced several initiatives intended to accommodate new growth throughout the city.
“Grow North” would offer forgivable loans and tax breaks to companies that bring at least 75 jobs to north Minneapolis — where regional unemployment is the highest in the city — and agree to hire its residents. Those companies would also have to make products or construct a building that the city considers environmentally sustainable.
Money for several hundred thousand dollars in loans would come from leftover funds from the federal community development block grant program, among other sources, said economic development chief Jeremy Hanson Willis.
Additionally, the mayor said the city wants to build at least one 35-unit senior housing project in every ward over the next 15 years, to serve the growing elderly population.
On development, Rybak said the city needs to accommodate new residents without “disturbing the single-family character of our neighborhoods.”
“We’re not going to tear down a bunch of single family homes,” he said. “We’re not going to build towers in the middle of residential neighborhoods. We’re going to grow it along transit corridors. We’re going to make it possible to live in this city without a car.”