The future of downtown Minneapolis looks busy-really busy when you factor the amount of residents the city is predicting will begin calling downtown their home over the next 15 years.
In a bold move today the Downtown City Council released a plan of action that charts the progress for development in the urban core of the city.
For decades, suburbs have captured growing shares of the job and retail markets. But the next successful economy, when it arrives, may turn the tables by placing higher value on the efficiency and proximity that traditional big-city downtowns can offer.
Downtowns come with ready-made templates for compact living, working and shopping -- all without the need for long, costly car trips. And they provide the critical mass to generate the human interaction and creativity considered essential for a recovering economy.
That's the aim of the Downtown 2025 Plan, an initiative of business owners, community leaders, and urban residents. Over the past 18 months this diverse group of 80 people put together goals and objectives to galvanize the quality of life in Downtown Minneapolis.
Among its major goals:
• To double the downtown residential population to 70,000. Adding residents is the generator that will drive most of the other goals. Having more people living downtown would produce a livelier street life and a revived retail scene, the need for even more trasit solutions.
With more than 100 potential building sites (most of them surface parking lots), there's plenty of room for housing growth, especially in the Mill District and the North Loop. The aim is to enhance downtown's appeal to families, students and senior citizens, as well as to young professionals who continue moving into the current inventory of condos and apartments.
• To reenergize Nicollet Mall. Transforming Nicollet into one of the nation's signature urban attractions is another ambitious goal.
The reconfigured and fully greened Nicollet corridor would stretch from the riverfront to the Walker Art Center, offering beauty, vitality, public art, revived shopping and programmed events in all seasons.
A key component would be Gateway Park, a new green space connecting the downtown core to the riverfront and offering adjacent development opportunities.
• To establish a sports district in downtown's west end that includes a new Vikings stadium and a regional transit hub. The themed district, including Target Field, Target Center, the Warehouse District entertainment scene and a new central transit station, would strengthen the Twin Cities as a competitor for national sporting events.
• To increase transit frequencies in central Minneapolis to the point that people living and working near downtown would seldom need a car. As part of the plan, Nicollet and other downtown streets would be served every few minutes by a circulator, employing either streetcars or zero-emission buses.
• To establish a tree canopy throughout downtown while bringing the arts to sidewalks and storefronts. Making downtown as green as the rest of the city would deliver enormous aesthetic, economic and environmental value.
Making the arts more visible and accessible would raise the city's cultural profile. A new summertime festival of ideas is part of the plan.
• To forge deeper connections to the University of Minnesota. A more active synergy between the state's leading economic generator and its largest employment center would benefit both neighbors.
Among the proposals: a university-themed neighborhood to replace the Metrodome and its surroundings.
• To end homelessness and provide meaningful daytime activity for the 300 to 500 people who sleep outdoors or have inadequate shelter. Making an already safe downtown look and feel safe is vital to downtown's future.
The plan, while celebrating downtown's potential, also points out its flaws, including failure to provide a consistent outdoor walking experience. Minneapolis has impressive architecture and strong cultural destinations.
But it lacks the fabric to tie these assets together at street level. Greener, more active sidewalks, nicer storefronts and an infilling of surface parking lots with new residential and mixed-use buildings would go a long way toward fixing the problem.
The plan's goals are ambitious. Doubling the residential population will depend on the housing market returning in full force.
The plan offers no overall cost estimates for those and other initiatives. They are intended as broad visions to help guide public/private policy in the decades ahead.
Unlike previous plans offered by the business community, the 2025 version did not seek official City Hall participation. Still, Mayor R.T. Rybak and top city and county officials were consulted throughout the planning process that bega in 2010.
In another departure, the plan sought advice from neighborhood groups in recognition that downtown is no longer a tight core of office towers and retail shops but "a broader ecology in which all activities intermingle and depend on one another."
Indeed, the plan redefines downtown as everything within boundaries that run roughly from St. Anthony/Main to Seven Corners, from Elliot Park to the Walker Art Center, and from the Farmers Market to Boom Island.
The plan represents a kind of generational turn at the Downtown Council. New business leaders see the plan as an ongoing project that they, working with public and private partners, intend to implement over the next decade and a half.
One of the people who spearheaded the plan, John Griffith, vice president for property development at Target Corp. has this to say:
"I travel the country and the world on behalf of Target, and I've seen every significant city in the U.S. and Canada multiple times," he said. "Minneapolis has extraordinary 'bones,' great people and a thriving community on a variety of measures. I'm convinced that our best days are ahead."