Updated at 12:12 p.m. on May 1, 2014

The sidewalks, public spaces and transit amenities of the Cedar-Riverside area are poised for major improvements this summer as a result of several projects.

When the Green Line light rail opens on June 14, Cedar-Riverside will be the only area outside of downtown Minneapolis served by two LRT lines. To coincide with that, the Cedar Cultural Center is planning a new multi-use "destination" plaza (above) to improve the outdoor realm near the Riverside Plaza towers.

A simultaneous $1.7 million Cedar Avenue street reconstruction this summer will widen sidewalks, add pedestrian lighting and create additional on-street parking (schematic at bottom of post). The city estimates that 1,470 pedestrians walk along Cedar Avenue in that area.

In the housing realm, a developer is preparing to build Five15 on the Park, a six-story building with 259 housing units adjoining the Mixed Blood Theater. The $52 million project, which will be half affordable units, is benefiting from substantial public funding.

The numerous projects promise to shape the future of a neighborhood that has become home to the city's growing Somali-American community.

Council Member Abdi Warsame, who represents the area, says he has been working to improve Cedar-Riverside roads since before he was elected last fall. He noted that in addition to the Cedar Avenue project and the recent reconstruction of Riverside Avenue, a number of streets around the Riverside Plaza complex will also be resurfaced.

He estimated that, taken altogether, it will be the biggest infrastructure development for Cedar-Riverside in 30 years.

“It means that Cedar-Riverside, especially the Riverside Plaza area, is getting attention that it’s never had before,” Warsame said. “So it means a lot to the people there. It means a lot to the elders, it means a lot to the youth, it means a lot to the people who live there that their part of the city is now caching up to the rest of the city.”

Rob Simonds, executive director of the Cedar Cultural Centar, said their planned plaza will create a flexible space for events or more casual uses between their venue and Riverside Plaza. They will remove the fence around their patio, eliminate numerous concrete obstacles, and add poles for nighttime lighting.

“This is a very high-density residential neighborhood, and there’s really no outdoor space for people to hang out," Simonds said of the project, for which they have raised about $400,000. They are seeking a $300,000 county transit-oriented development grant to make more expansive improvements.

"The Cedar Cultural Center (The Cedar) seeks to build a destination point between the two stations to more effectively drive transit riders through the neighborhood's commercial corridor thus increasing activity for local businesses, leveraging arts and cultural offerings, and emphasizing the pedestrian culture and street-level vitality," stated a city document outlining grant applications

The space may be enclosed with fencing for outdoor music events, which city rules would only allow to be held 12 times a year. But other uses would be varied, including hanging out and drinking coffee at a Somali-operated portable coffee cart that Simonds said has expressed interest in using the plaza.

"It was just a central point for the neighborhood," Simonds said. Construction on the plaza is expected to coincide with the street reconstruction, which Simonds said would begin this summer.

David Frank, the city's director of transit-oriented development, said the overarching goal for Cedar-Riverside is to build on the small businesses and immigrant communities that are already in the neighborhood, allowing more people to use the area while not pushing out existing residents.

"It’s…such a unique place now," Frank said. "When you leverage that with the transit amenities, the infrastructure investment, the parks, the cultural amenities that it’s getting -- or is spiffing up -- I think it becomes a place unto itself.”

Post updated on May 1, 2014 with comments from Council Member Abdi Warsame.