History of the development around Loring Park in Minneapolis
by Ben Ganje
on Thursday, June 28th, 2012 at 1:32pm.
When it was created in the 1970's, the Loring Park Development District was the Twin Cities' most comprehensive and significant effort to attract middle- and upper-income residents to the inner city. The area between downtown and Loring Park presented a classic example of the decline of a prestigious neighborhood at the edge of a city's center. In the early 1970's the city's planners and downtown interests produced a series of plans to be followed by development proposals for the area.
The Metro Center '85 plan, recommended by the Downtown Council and adopted by the Minneapolis Planning Commission in 1973, pointed out the potential for high density residential redevelopment around Loring Park. The previous year the city council had officially created the Loring Park Development District. Designed to be underwritten by means of tax-increment financing, the city proposed to absorb much of the financial risk associated with private development.
At the center of the plan was the development of a park-like atmosphere that would compete with the most desirable suburbs. Design objectives incorporated considerations such as open space, building design and orientation, and security. The Urban Design Plan was developed by M. Paul Friedberg, a nationally prominent urban designer. His plan identified the Loring Greenway, a finger park stretching from the downtown Nicollet Mall to Loring Park, as the major open space and residential walkway for the area.
The first part of the Greenway from Nicollet Mall to the LaSalle Avenue overpass was to be a relatively narrow pedestrian shopping mall framed by small retail shops. The overpass was to be connected by stairs to a bus stop on the street below. The Greenway from the overpass to Loring Park would be an extension of the park accommodating different recreational activities. Pedestrian entries to the adjacent buildings would link the Greenway to all apartment courtyards. The concept included low-rise buildings along the Greenway and high-rise buildings along the street side. Security was to be provided through a civic surveillance plan (the "eyes of the community" in the surrounding properties) that would supply "the best anti-crime deterrent design can contribute."
The environment that was actually created in the Loring district departed from the design plan in several significant ways. Although the Greenway was built as planned, specifications regarding building size and orientation were largely disregarded. The townhouses originally proposed to line the Greenway were clustered into one area (Greenway Gables). The street-level retail shopping area at the Nicollet Mall end of the Greenway was apparently vetoed by the developers, and the city acquiesced. The resulting buildings, especially the Hyatt Regency Hotel along the south edge of the Nicollet entrance to the Greenway, embody the form but not the function of the Friedberg plan. A concrete wall stands where shops were intended. The west half of the Greenway, adjacent to Loring Park and Loring Way Condominium, most nearly resembles the original plan of a park-like area.
Friedberg had planned the district for pedestrians and building development was to be oriented accordingly. Ironically, the major alterations to the plan represent a rejection of the pedestrian orientation in favor of an automobile orientation--one the city planners had originally sought to avoid. Loring Way and a few other buildings retained pedestrian access to the Greenway.
The stairway from the LaSalle overpass to the street below never materialized. Instead there is a wall along LaSalle Avenue punctuated at several points by garage and service entrances to the Hyatt Regency Hotel. There is no single explanation to account for the actual development's departure from Friedberg's plan. It appears that the city, for a variety of reasons, was not able to enforce the original design guidelines as development began.
At about the same time that the city began soliciting development proposals for the private parcels in the district, an economic recession made it difficult or impossible for developers to secure needed investment financing. Consequently, the city planning office began to adjust its design objectives in order to facilitate private development. In the absence of guidelines, developers shifted their concerns away from the public spaces of individual parcels and buildings. The resulting construction reflected an overriding concern for personal security in buildings at the expense of the surrounding public space.
Despite the challenges and compromises of the development, the area's first residents indicated increased use of the cultural opportunities in the area, a greater propensity to shop downtown, less dependence upon private automobiles, and more walking to work and to play. In spite of the barriers presented by the design of some of the buildings, many new residents made use of the Greenway. Many of the residents relocated to downtown from the suburbs.
The Loring Park development was a conscious effort on the part of the City of Minneapolis to turn around a deteriorating city neighborhood. They sought to replace a low income population living in a crime ridden neighborhood with an affluent population living in a lively and safe neighborhood. Generally the project has been successful. The original design objectives of the plan were modified as the project was built. Nevertheless the newly created environment has wrought noticeable changes in the life style of its new residents. A survey of people living in the Loring Park development showed that they are walking more and driving less, using nearby cultural and recreational facilities, and shopping more in the downtown area than they did previously. The Greenway is being used despite the physical barriers created against its use by security and prestige-conscious developers. These developers seem to have been more worried by the potential mixing of different populations in public places than were the planners or, one would guess, the residents. On the whole the newcomers like their new environment.