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Above the Falls plan is getting another look
Written by Margo Ashmore
Posted 12/1/2012
North Siders will find some new ideas for the Upper Harbor Terminal property, and Northeasters will find one Northeast area with a recommended use change, when planners meet the public to revise the Above the Falls Master Plan for the Mississippi River on Monday, Dec. 10, 6:30-9 p.m. at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board headquarters, 2117 West River Road.

The Northeast area is north of the Xcel Energy Riverside Plant and south of the city limits. Planners are recommending it be a possible location for an "office headquarters" in a business/office park development with focus on high quality, job intensive uses, according to a draft used at a mid-October public forum, the second in a series in which the Dec. 10 event is the third.

City planner Haila Maze said city and park board staff have been working through the summer to update the plan in light of changed economics, opportunities and threats. They’ve talked with developers and others as well as residents and business people, incorporating their thoughts along the way. With whatever comes from the Dec. 10 meeting, they will take the plan to their respective council and board, anticipating approval in early 2013.

Maze said, "We now have different tools. We can’t go buying up large swaths of land. Eminent domain power has been restricted" since the plan’s inception a decade ago, "we’re only able to acquire piecemeal as owners get ready to sell." The recent Scherer Brothers and 1720 Marshall St. NE acquisition, for example: "The park board is already leading the way in that." There will be discussion Dec. 10 about strategies for dealing with uses that will take a long time to transition out.

On the North Minneapolis side, there’s a big use transitioning out on a fast track—the Upper Harbor Terminal. Since July, the planners have landed on a specific recommendation for what they call the Northwest Quadrant; South of Dowling they recommend a job-generating business and office park. But they are exploring putting housing and mixed-use (including some commercial— "riverfront hospitality, restaurant, coffee shop") in the area closer to Lyndale, where there is already potential to connect to existing neighborhoods.

"We heard a lot from people about wanting to be connected to a neighborhood, to not just live in a new little pod away from everything. Developers recommend we build off of existing strengths. Nobody wants to be the first thing out there, there’s more risk," Maze said.

Most of the recommended changes to the plan fall on the North Minneapolis side of the river, reflecting developers’ lack of faith in the housing market there combined with the need to generate jobs, hopefully employing local residents so they can spend money at local businesses and re-populate the foreclosure-battered existing housing on the North Side.

Maze emphasized that in addition to "connections to the neighborhoods," other hard-fought-for elements of the plan—such as environmental restoration, stormwater management, "cleaner, greener, dealing with contamination"—are "still in there."

Jared Erdman, who Maze said is "really gifted in public outreach" has been leading the Health Impact Assessment aspect of the Above the Falls update. It will not only be an appendix to the new document, but "is shaping and impacting everything we do," she added. "We have had some very interesting bilingual meetings. Lao community members would like to see long boat races," for example. And another group’s main concern was that their houses would be torn down to benefit others, and had to be assured that the planning effort should benefit them, too.

The format for the Monday, Dec. 10 meeting is open house 6:30-7; program 7-8:30; table discussions 8:30-9. Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership and the Above the Falls Citizen Advisory Committee (AFCAC) are hosting the forum "to help us envision and shape a vibrant riverfront," according to their news release.

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