A public park, amphitheater, retail spaces, apartments and even a hotel could one day replace Minneapolis’ defunct river port under a plan nearing approval at City Hall.
The City Council in the coming weeks will vote on a concept for the Upper Harbor Terminal, 48 acres along the Mississippi River in north Minneapolis, after nearly two years of community discussions. It represents a high-level vision of the redevelopment, to be followed by a more complete plan in about a year.
Many who are involved in the project hope it will prove a boon to north Minneapolis. Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who represents the area, said the Upper Harbor Terminal could become a national model for “equitable development.”
“Equitable development means that we are able to create this amazing beautiful space that’s for the North Side and also for visitors to come and enjoy as well,” Cunningham said. “But ultimately the money and the work — and who it’s ultimately serving — is the North Side.”
Based on community feedback on an earlier draft, planners have added more park space and affordable housing commitments, among other changes. But some people following the process would like the city to slow down and rethink its community engagement.
The former port is located to the east of Interstate 94 near Dowling Avenue. The latest vision for the site includes nearly 20 acres of park space, housing, offices, retail, an outdoor live music venue and a hotel. It would include 100 units of affordable housing. The redevelopment would have some unique features aimed at local residents. Local businesses would have priority for retail spaces, which could be owned through a to-be-determined community model. Other ideas for the area include a “Community Innovation Hub,” which is also still being defined.
One prominent feature of the plan so far has been the Community Performing Arts Center, a riverfront live music venue that would host both “community programming” and ticketed events. It would have a roughly 10,000-seat capacity, according to a presentation given in August.
United Properties is the lead developer, working with partners Thor Cos. and First Avenue Productions. Ann Calvert, the city’s principal project coordinator, said the total private development costs for the first phase of the project could surpass $200 million.
Private financing could be aided by the project’s location in an Opportunity Zone, a new federal tax break intended to help funnel investment income into low-income communities. The public cost of building the park and installing infrastructure could be about $37 million, Calvert said in an e-mail. The state awarded the project $15 million in bonding dollars earlier this year to help cover that.
Some think the project is moving too fast, however.
“We are asking the process to be slowed down so that we can be more intentional, more inclusive, and not rush to judgment,” said Michael Chaney, executive director of Project Sweetie Pie, a nonprofit organization that promotes urban farming.
Chaney has dreams of an “Environmental Impact Center” for research and education about ecology, historic preservation, art and urban farming.
He said city planners have integrated many suggestions into the revised plan.
“And we applaud them for that,” Chaney said. “But there still are some unanswered questions.”
Paul Bauknight, an architect and urban planner who lives on the North Side, said he wishes the proposal did more to improve people’s lives on the North Side — such as providing living-wage jobs and more wealth-building opportunities.
“The plan right now is really a real estate development plan. It is not dealing with these social economic issues and opportunities,” Bauknight said. “And there is not a strategy right now to really think about, ‘How do you leverage the development of the 48 acres to that greater good for the North Side?’ ”
Erik Hansen, the city’s director of economic policy and development, said the city will be creating a new community engagement commission to help shape the plan.
“We hear the community saying that there needs to be more refinement. So we’re going to continue with that,” Hansen said. “The thing that we’re not entertaining is starting from scratch.”
The concept plan will be presented to the City Council’s Economic Development and Regulatory Services committee on Jan. 22. The full council is expected to vote on it Feb. 1.
“It’s just a milepost with the council to say that we’re going on the right course,” Hansen said. “We still have a lot of outstanding items that we have to evaluate.”