A sweeping plan to convert a blighted industrial stretch of Mississippi River waterfront north of downtown Minneapolis into a 20-acre park ringed by affordable housing, a health center, an outdoor amphitheater and other amenities passed the City Council on Friday morning by a nearly unanimous vote.
The stamp of approval marks a major pivot for the city's waterfront and for the 48-acre Upper Harbor Terminal project, which after six years of planning and community discussions now moves into a construction and development phase that will see the McKinley and Webber-Camden neighborhoods grow east toward the river. The estimated $350 million redevelopment project includes measures to help the long underserved community nearby.
"Now we're moving from planning into action," said Fourth Ward Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who represents the residents living near the project area.
Some clearing of the site, including demolition work and early infrastructure preparation, likely will begin next year, said Erik Hansen, the city's director of economic policy and development. The first new buildings from project developer United Properties likely won't go up until 2023, and the parcel won't be fully built out for another 15 to 20 years.
An agreement with First Avenue nightclub to run the four-season, 7,000-to-10,000-seat outdoor music venue anticipated for the site could result in the first concert on the river by 2025, he added.
The site stretches for nearly a mile north of 33rd Avenue N. and is about 500 feet wide. Industrial buildings once used for transporting grain still stand there, including three storage domes, several grain elevators, conveyors and barge docks along the river.
Whether some or any of those buildings will remain is under discussion.
Soil tests taken at the site show low levels of contamination, according to the Park Board.
The project's early planning was hampered by a sense that people living nearby in traditionally underserved north Minneapolis neighborhoods weren't being heard and that the redevelopment would become little more than publicly financed gentrification of what was prime riverfront property.
A group of community leaders were appointed to the Upper Harbor Terminal Collaborative Planning Committee to steer the development and help the city set priorities for it.
They couldn't make big changes to the plan already developed by United Properties and First Avenue, but they helped the city shape the project so that it best served the local community, Cunningham said.
The plan calls for setting aside $3 of every ticket sale at the First Avenue-run amphitheater to support the local community in a variety of ways, including subsiziding commercial spaces for local businesses, supporting community arts programming, and supporting anti-displacement efforts or wealth creation initiatives in the community.
The pool of money collected through ticket revenue would be overseen by a community group that has yet to be created, said Hansen.
A second stream of revenue to support the local community will come from the business leases there.
The project calls for keeping the entire site city-owned rather than selling a portion of it to private developers.
Developers will pay leasing fees to construct the buildings that are being envisioned for the spot.
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison was the lone nay vote.
He said beforehand that he thought the project was "by and large" a good one, but asked that the vote be postponed to address some problematic aspects.
He wasn't specific, but at a Business, Inspections, Housing and Zoning Committee meeting last week he said he had a problem with an acronym that appears in the Upper Harbor Terminal plan's vision statement.
The acronym ADOS, which stands for African-American Descendants of Slaves, has "really become politically charged," Ellison said.
"I know that one of the founders of the ADOS term has, you know, has been using the term to question even the Blackness of folks like Kamala Harris and Barack Obama, and so I don't feel comfortable supporting that term being in this official document."
Bill English, a member of the Upper Harbor Terminal Collaborative Planning Committee, said he was happy with the plan and that the acronym is a legitimate way to describe people — one that he uses for himself.
"I think it's going to be a huge opportunity that will not be frivolous in any way," English said. "It's going to have the largest economic impact that we've seen in years in a community that's been underinvested."
A public comment period for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's plans for a new 19.5-acre park on the site ends Oct. 21. The board already has $8 million set aside for the park, according to its website.
The Upper Harbor Terminal site was part of the land taken from the Dakota in treaties signed in 1851 at Traverse des Sioux and Mendota, according to the Park Board. A 2016 study found evidence that a Native American riverside trail went through or past the site.
The birth of a new park and housing on the former industrial site became a possibility after the 2015 closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam in an effort to stop the threat of invasive carp.