The Minneapolis City Council is poised to take the next step toward developing a prime riverfront site in north Minneapolis — but only with continuing, meaningful community involvement.
Last week, a council committee wisely approved a mixed-use plan for the 48-acre Upper Harbor Terminal site that runs along the Mississippi River. The long-debated project is expected to include public parkland with access to the river, affordable and market-rate housing, businesses, and a major music venue.
And it’s being designed to finally connect the city’s North Side residents to the river and to the economic benefits of riverfront development. The project can be a model for how a city can operate in partnership with an economically challenged community to “co-create” a prime riverfront property.
Before last week’s vote, Council Members Phillipe Cunningham and Jeremiah Ellison, who represent North Side wards, recommended changes to the plan that responded to community concerns. Those changes included a commitment to racial equity, green jobs and affordable housing. The amended plan also calls for neighbors to have more influence on the outcome through a citizen advisory committee.
The full council is expected to approve the plan on March 1. By May, the community advisory council will be appointed. A more detailed plan will be released next year, with construction beginning in 2021 or 2022.
Throughout the planning process and up until last week’s committee vote, dozens of community and environmental activists expressed strong opposition to the project. Some believed the plan ceded too much control to developers while privatizing much of what is now publicly owned land. They worried that too little of the riverside site would be accessible to residents as public parkland.
Some opponents wanted a smaller music venue that would be free or affordable and more open to public use. Others said the concept plan — before it was modified — would gentrify the area and push out low- and moderate-income North Siders. They saw a blueprint that would lock current community members out of any benefits from the project.
Emmanuel Ortiz, an organizer for the Parks and Power campaign, said the project would attract a “land grab” in neighboring areas that would prevent lower- or moderate-income people from renting, buying property or starting businesses in the area.
Those issues were rightly addressed by the amendments to the plan last week. Changes to the plan call for the city to consider putting the property into a public trust. The city and Park and Recreation Board would explore forming a partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools for music education opportunities on the site. And the city will confer with residents about the possibility of including a hotel, hostel, community center or banquet hall on the land.
Those who have opposed the project should also recognize the new jobs and tax revenue the project would generate.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said his administration is committed to developing the site in collaboration with neighbors to build a more inclusive city economy.
“ ‘Community first’ has got to mean community first. That means putting people of color, especially those from north Minneapolis, as primary beneficiary,” Frey said. “While we are only a concept plan at this stage, I think we’re going in the right direction.”
We agree. Now the city must live up to its pledge to listen to community concerns while also ensuring that the project becomes a valuable riverfront asset that will benefit the entire city and region.