A plan to redevelop 48 acres along the north Minneapolis riverfront has picked up momentum after it secured $12.5 million from the state to build its centerpiece concert venue.
The transformation of the Upper Harbor Terminal, a decaying and largely unoccupied industrial zone along the Mississippi River, was billed as the top capital priority for the city before the coronavirus pandemic brought major projects to a halt. A community advisory group stopped meeting temporarily and planning and construction milestones were delayed.
The project got a new boost when the Legislature, in a fifth special session, passed a $1.9 billion infrastructure bill that included $12.5 million for the Upper Harbor Terminal. The advisory group has met with increasing frequency in recent weeks, and the city released a draft of a project plan set to go before the City Council in February.
“With the information on the bonding bill, that’s going to be able to help give some clarification on the designs of the music venue,” said Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who represents the area. “But overall, the process is on track.”
“I just know that what we’re going to end up getting is going to be something amazing, that’s really going to be such a cultural icon here in north Minneapolis,” he added.
The $12.5 million from the state was less than the $20 million the city had lobbied for at the beginning of the session. Still, project leaders believe it is enough to help build a concert venue that can hold 7,000 to 10,000 people with a section that can stay open year-round.
“I think it’s symbolic to show that this is a statewide significant investment,” said Erik Hansen, the city’s director of economic policy. “It is putting the North Side on the map of importance.”
First Avenue Productions, which is facing an uncertain future posed by the coronavirus pandemic, would own the venue and be responsible for matching the state grant, Hansen said. In response to an interview request, First Avenue CEO Dayna Frank provided a statement that said the match would be “a mix of capital campaign, tax credits and private contribution.”
This is the second infusion of bonding money for the project, which received $15 million for basic infrastructure in 2018. The design process for the venue would begin next year, Frank said.
Meanwhile, more details about the Upper Harbor project were included in the coordinated plan draft released this month.
In addition to development partners First Avenue Productions and United Properties, the city is now consulting with Building Blocks, a local nonprofit developer founded by former NBA player Devean George.
The estimated cost for the redevelopment has risen from $200 million to more than $300 million. This includes the concert venue, housing, urban agriculture, manufacturing and nearly 20 acres of park space.
“That back-of-the-envelope estimate is getting more refined,” Hansen said.
Ownership of the several parcels in the Upper Harbor Terminal, as well as assurances that the project would benefit the North Side, were major concerns of an appointed committee that has discussed the plan this year, Hansen said. Members of the committee contacted by the Star Tribune did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the coordinated plan, the city would own the land and lease it to developers to build housing and other commercial structures. The property where the concert venue would go would be sold to First Avenue and a community entity, which would then lease it back to the city, Hansen said.
Money from the ground leases and a $3 ticket fee at the venue would be used to subsidize commercial spaces, fund arts programming and support “anti-displacement efforts” on the North Side.
A large park that extends across the riverfront would be accessible from Dowling Avenue and owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
The community advisory committee will review the coordinated plan Wednesday. The city will solicit feedback on the plan starting in December, according to a recently released timeline. It is expected to go before the City Council on Feb. 26.
Still, questions about the project persist on the North Side, said Colleen O’Connor Toberman, the river corridor director for Friends of the Mississippi River. People had raised concerns about noise from the venue and traffic to the site, she said, both of which were expected to be addressed in an environmental review that would be released after the council votes on the coordinated plan.
“It’s disturbing that the environmental review will be done after they vote on the plan,” O’Connor Toberman said.
Friends of the Mississippi River is funding a new campaign to raise awareness of the project and push for a different redevelopment.