A year-round Farmers Market, garbage-fueled heat, reconnected streets and the elimination of a freeway viaduct are among the lofty ideas architects and planners are envisioning for the area around the proposed Minneapolis soccer stadium.
Some of those concepts could move to the forefront if Dr. Bill McGuire pushes forward with his plan to build a $150 million soccer stadium just west of Target Field; he requested tax breaks this week to make it possible. The proposal has brought new attention to an often overlooked area dotted by anonymous industrial buildings and the city’s Farmers Market sheds, long ago sliced up by roads carrying people coming and going from the downtown core.
“I’ve been on the council for 18 years,” City Council President Barb Johnson said. “That area doesn’t look any different from the day I walked in the door.”
Long isolated by freeways, dead-end roads and a railroad trench, the area is a quiet home for businesses that make modern life possible: selling store fixtures, uniforms, auto parts, electronic components and heating and air conditioning systems. But new office and residential buildings are already rising around Target Field — once a vast parking lot — and many believe that growth will inevitably spread west with the arrival of Southwest light rail at Royalston Avenue in 2019.
“I haven’t spoken to anybody who thinks … that it’s going to stay the same,” said David Frank, the city’s economic development director and president of the North Loop neighborhood. “The reason I think there are so many visions here is because this is an area poised for growth and change.”
Passengers could one day step off that train into a new, enclosed Farmers Market corridor under a “market district” proposal recommended by city consultants this December — the existing sheds would remain a block away. City staff have asked farmers to devise a business plan for making that year-round local foods market viable, though the city’s director of property services Greg Goeke said any development would require a private-sector partnership.
They had initially timed their conversations around the light rail’s opening. “If the stadium is going to happen, that time frame got condensed quite a bit on us,” Goeke said.
‘Correct the sins of the past’
Architects at UrbanWorks, which has designed several prominent North Loop buildings, have been shopping around a 20-year vision for a new 206-acre “West Loop” neighborhood — population 20,000 — that extends far beyond the boundaries of the Farmers Market. It involves spurring new development by rebuilding interrupted parts of the street grid, adding an L-shaped greenway and converting a half-mile freeway viaduct to a new 4th Street boulevard.
Built in 1982, the massive Interstate 94 on- and off-ramps divide the booming North Loop area from its western neighbor. Some believe it is one of the area’s best candidates for freeway removal — a la San Francisco’s Embarcadero, a massive redevelopment that came about after a freeway was cleared. It is a long-shot, but Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said it is “not beyond the realm of the possible for that to go.”
“Just as we did with the ballpark, bridging some of those freeways over there, that’s what needs to happen,” McLaughlin said. “Correct the sins of the past and you create a better urban environment.”
But Ron Rauschle, an engineer with the state Department of Transportation, said diverting those 20,000 cars a day to local streets further north “would overwhelm that system. It would be a roadway carrying very similar volumes … to what Washington Avenue carries, which is quite a bit.”
In addition to the new housing, office and retail development, UrbanWorks sees their West Loop plan improving connections to the city’s North Side — partly through new and repurposed freeway bridges. “You have sort of removal of the moat,” said Noah Bly, a principal at the firm. “The moat is right now an impassable area full of one-story industrial buildings.”
The public infrastructure costs for the full proposal would likely run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, they said, but Bly suggested the money could be captured from the increased property taxes. Like many other planners, he points to the redevelopment of Portland’s Pearl District, where new tax dollars helped pay for the successful transformation of an industrial area.
Unlike the Pearl District, however, UrbanWorks estimates the West Loop area has about 200 property owners — making a coordinated vision more difficult to pull off. About 30 percent of the land is publicly owned, including some major facilities like Metro Transit’s Heywood campus, Target Field, the county garbage burner and the city’s traffic operations center.
Garbage to energy
“Land assembly is one of the major impediments to redevelopment,” said Dave Albersman, an architect who has met regularly with a group focused on the future of the Farmers Market. It includes Bruce Lambrecht, who owned the land that became Target Field, Mark Oyaas, and former county commissioner Mark Steinglein.
Albersman was a key player in the early stages of the proposal for what would become Target Field, and recalls the “colored blobs” from their early pitches indicating development in this western area. “Our fundamental public policy issue with any of these [stadiums] … was that if you’re going to invest a whole bunch of money, you should accomplish multiple public policy objectives along the way and not just chip in on a sports facility,” Albersman said.
Lambrecht said they met with McGuire two years ago when he was still considering suburban sites for the stadium. Their plan helped draw McGuire to the Farmers Market area, Lambrecht said.
In addition to an expanded Farmers Market, the group’s plan envisions the county garbage burner, known as HERC, using steam to heat and cool the new developments. HERC already uses steam lines to heat Target Field and downtown office buildings, as well as producing electricity for Xcel Energy.
The expansion is something the county has explored, though environmental services director Carl Michaud said they need more information about precisely what would rise near the Farmers Market.
“We’ve looked at getting a steam line or a hot water line over to that side of the area for any future development,” Michaud said. “We’re looking at providing possibly a snowmelt system for that Royalston Southwest light rail station.”
McGuire has shown groups renderings of a redeveloped district, including a facility that mimics Chicago’s Eataly indoor market, but hasn’t released them publicly. His investment team includes Bob Pohlad, whose family owns developer United Properties — the team also includes Star Tribune owner Glen Taylor.
“The soccer park or plaza becomes really an anchor tenant for development of the area,” McGuire said this week.
The farmers market area wasn’t always so isolated. Much of the Oak Lake Addition, a residential neighborhood of winding streets, was demolished in the 1930s to make way for the market — initially a wholesale operation. Some homes remained until the 1960s, when aerial photos show they were replaced by the blocky industrial buildings that remain today.
“That’s the next new area to really pop in terms of investment,” McClaughlin said.