Minneapolis leaders went to the Capitol on Tuesday seeking $20 million to help build a riverfront amphitheater, the controversial centerpiece of the massive Upper Harbor Terminal project.
Mayor Jacob Frey and Council Member Phillipe Cunningham described investing in the amphitheater as a way to revitalize an area that has been historically overlooked.
“This is a project that has tons of potential,” Frey told the Senate’s Capital Investment Committee. “This is a project, and this is a location that doesn’t become available very often.”
But some residents and advocates said they fear the project could have the opposite effect, pricing longtime residents out of the area and stressing the transit system.
Now, Minnesota lawmakers must decide whether to set aside government money for a privately run building when they approve their bonding bill later this year.
“The way this all works is bonding projects are approved and usually matched with local government funds,” said Sen. David Senjem, a Rochester Republican who chairs the committee. “This is somewhat unique in that a private organization is matching.”
The amphitheater has proved to be one of the most divisive parts of the plan to redevelop 48 acres of city-owned land along the Mississippi River in north Minneapolis.
The entire redevelopment project is expected to cost roughly $200 million. Estimates for the amphitheater alone have varied but are currently around $48 million.
If the state provides funding, First Avenue Productions, which will run the concert venue, will raise the remaining money for the amphitheater, which is expected to hold 7,000 to 10,000 people.
Dayna Frank, CEO of First Avenue Productions, told the Senate committee they have already raised nearly a quarter of their portion of the funding.
Supporters in City Hall say the amphitheater will provide jobs, businesses will thrive off the new foot traffic and bring in extra tax revenue, and other elements of the project will include affordable housing.
Cunningham called it a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to build wealth in a community that has historically been left behind.”
Said Frey: “Done right, north Minneapolis business owners will call [the] Upper Harbor Terminal home.”
Opponents also testified before the Senate committee, saying that they wanted more public input, an environmental study and reassurances that the redevelopment wouldn’t drive up the cost of living.
Audua Pugh, who is leading a group of concerned residents, said people in the area have lingering questions about what types of jobs will be created and what benefits they’ll offer, whether new transit service will be added and what impact the project would have on the environment.
She and another North Side resident, David Luce, urged the committee to hold off on the funding for now.
“It needs to go back to the drawing board, and you need to save your $20 million until the next round,” Luce said.
Joining them in opposition was the nonprofit Friends of the Mississippi River, which submitted a letter describing the project as a “lightning rod for controversy.”
“Sometimes public investment should go to ‘risky’ ventures whose balance sheets make it hard to access traditional funding, if those ventures meet critical community needs,” the organization wrote. “We don’t believe this project is a risk worth taking.”
Any bonding money for the amphitheater would be over and above the $15 million the state approved in 2018 to pay for streets, stormwater sewers, pedestrian access and utilities for the Upper Harbor Terminal project. That money was then matched by the city and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
A decision on funding is expected by the end of the legislative session.