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Sunday
Feb212016

Renaming Downtown: A New Name for the Mill District / Downtown East & Elliot Park?

Above: High profile features of the area in question

A Downtown Council task force, comprised largely of business people from the Elliot Park & Mill District/Downtown East neighborhoods, has been working for the past year on creating a brand name for a new “district” defined as the boundaries of the 2 neighborhoods combined. As reported by the MSP Business Journal last week, the task force has released a list of potential names: Celebration Heights, East Loop, Newsmaker Park and a bunch more (more below).

Do we need a new “district”? If a new district is created, what should it be named?

**Survey Closed**

Potential names for the new district from the task force:

Celebration Heights

Celebration Park

Celebration Square

Downtown East

East Central District

East Central Park

East Central Square

E Do

East Downtown

East Downtown Promenade

East Hub

East Loop

East Town

East Village

Mississippi Heights Park

Mississippi Heights Square

Mississippi River Heights

Newsmaker District

Newsmaker Park

Newsmaker Square

Nordic Village

Portland and Park

Promenade Park

Promenade District

SoFa

Waaban Square

Saturday
Feb202016

Let the People Decide on the Future of Minneapolis Parks

By Craig Wilson

I am asking the Mill City community for your support on an issue that is important both to me personally and to our city.  Our neighborhood parks are a big part of what makes Minneapolis a special place to live.  Unfortunately, they currently face a $15 million per year budget shortfall and, if we do not take action, Minneapolis residents will see a major decline in our beloved park infrastructure and our quality of life.

That is why I am a member of Save Our Minneapolis Parks, a citizen group supporting a parks’ referendum in 2016.  This referendum would fill the funding gap facing our neighborhood parks and give Minneapolis residents the opportunity to vote to invest in our parks. The referendum would cost the average taxpayer $5.41 a month. That is a very small price to pay to repair and maintain our parks for our families, our children, and for future generations. 

This referendum is important to the thousands of children who participate in outdoor activities in the parks each year, improving their physical health and wellbeing. It will also enhance our quality of life by ensuring that all residents have high quality parks to go to commune with nature, gather with their friends, or simply spend time with their families.  The referendum promotes fairness and equity in the city with nearly a third of neighborhood parks in areas where 30% or more residents live in poverty.  Finally, the referendum will enable neighborhood parks to operate with enhanced environmentally sustainability that will benefit the city and the planet.

Right now, the referendum is not on the 2016 ballot.  A simple majority (7 members) of the Minneapolis City Council must vote to put this measure on the ballot.  This is a critical moment for our parks.  All we are asking is to “let the people decide” on the future of our wonderful Minneapolis parks.  Whether you support more funding for our neighborhood parks or whether you simply want to give Minneapolis residents a vote and choice, we ask for your support of this referendum.   You can learn more by visiting our website www.savemplsparks.com.  At our site, you can join our email list or even sign up to volunteer.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions (FAQs) that have been raised about this referendum effort to “let the people decide” on the future of Minneapolis parks:

What you do mean by neighborhood parks? Regional parks are larger and natural feature based—think Lake of the Isles, Lake Harriet, or Theodore Wirth.  These parks receive funding from local, regional, state, and federal sources.  Our neighborhood parks tend to be smaller parks that are in the heart of neighborhoods and serve the local community and house recreation facilities, athletic fields, etc. Unlike regional parks, our neighborhood parks receive funding almost exclusively from local property tax dollars.  So while there is funding available to maintain our regional park system and even to build new ones, like the Mississippi Island project in Northeast Minneapolis, there is not enough money to maintain our neighborhood parks.

Why is the Park Board not simply asking the City for more funding for neighborhood parks? In the year 2000, knowing they lacked the funds to maintain the neighborhood park system, the Park Board decided to seek new funding through a referendum.  However, at the time, the City asked the Park Board not to pursue a referendum and offered new funding through the regular city budgeting process. Unfortunately, the City only funded parks at the promised level for one year. The funding gap continued to grow.  With that in mind, the current park board and Save Our Minneapolis Parks feels it is necessary to seek a referendum rather than pursue a yearly levy increase.  This is a systemic problem, and we need a sustainable solution. 

Why does the Park Board need more money when it can buy new land/build new parks, such as along the riverfront in Northeast Minneapolis?  Many of the new parks in the system are regional parks and therefore receive funding from sources other than our local property tax dollars (i.e. money from the state and federal governments). Land acquisitions, like those in Northeast Minneapolis along the Riverfront, are part of the riverfront regional park. The Park Board was able to use emergency acquisition funds for the vast majority of the purchase, normally about 75% or more.  The Park Board has a lot more flexibility and ability to garner funds for the regional parks—hence the referendum request for the neighborhood parks.  And even the regional land the Park Board is acquiring now is in North and Northeast Minneapolis in an effort to provide equity in the city for access to parks and water. Our neighborhood parks, however, rely almost entirely on local property tax dollars.

How much will this cost? This referendum will cost the average homeowner about $5.41 a month— a very small price to pay to repair and maintain our parks for our families, our children, and for future generations. (Average home is defined as $190,000).   

What about private donations? Minneapolis is fortunate to have individuals and organizations dedicated to raising money for the parks through private philanthropy.  Unfortunately, that just isn’t a feasible way to close our neighborhood parks gap.  The size of the gap is just too large, and from a practical perspective, cannot be covered by private contributions alone.

Is the Park Board responsible for the gap; where did gap come from? No.  In fact, over the past four years, The Park Board and Superintendent Miller have been able to find new operating efficiencies, resulting in approximately $2.3 million in annual savings.  In addition, from 2003 to 2013, the Park Board made significant reductions in personnel and resources.  However, the budget shortfall is so severe that these cuts are simply not enough to fill the annual gap. Much of the gap stems from actions taken at the turn of the century. In the early 2000s, with the city facing extreme economic pressure, the council and mayor decided to redirect funds previously intended for parks.  

Where will money be spent? In the first five years alone, the Park Board anticipates that $20 million dollars will go to improving park and park asset maintenance, $14 million will go to rehabilitating park assets in the system and addressing the almost 20 year repair backlog, and $43 million will go toward investing in the future by replacing park assets that are long overdue for replacement (i.e. recreation centers) and implementing service area master plans. The bulk of funding will be spent on replacing park assets because by 2020, 70% of all park assets in neighborhood parks will be beyond their life cycle.

The Park Board currently has $7 million dollars in City funds that are unspent, why? With the inclusion of a citizens engagement ordinance all project time lines were lengthened. In some cases, the projects being asked for were too big for funding available, or promised matching funds took longer to raise. The backlog has decreased as funding has been reallocated and the engagement process has been refined and improved. This year should bring nearly all projects up to speed.

A 20-year commitment seems like a long time, why this time horizon? This is a systemic problem, and we need a sustainable, long-term solution.  At the same time, rather than doing a referendum in perpetuity, a 20-year time frame allows voters the flexibility to reassess at a later date.

How can Minneapolis residents be ensured that referendum dollars are locked into neighborhood spending—it’s not in the referendum language? The money from the referendum will go into a general pool that is dedicated solely to neighborhood parks.  Our citizen group supports strict accountability measures that ensure this funding goes to the neighborhood park system alone. 

How can I help? Please join us at www.savemplsparks.com where you can support the campaign by entering your email address next to the “join” button—we will provide you with updates and opportunities to help Save Our Minneapolis Parks.

Craig Wilson is a Principal with Sustology, a third-party independent sustainability advisory firm that brings sustainable solutions to businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves on the Downtown Public Realm/Parks Steering Committee – Pathways to Places – and on the St. Anthony Falls Regional Park Citizens Advisory Committee.

Save Our Minneapolis Parks is a citizen-led group dedicated to supporting the 2016 Minneapolis parks referendum.  Our members come from all corners of the city and share the common belief that our neighborhood parks make Minneapolis a unique place to live.

Saturday
Feb202016

The Name Game: Birth of a Neighborhood (Name)

By Susan Schaefer:

Dear compatriots of a certain age, you can hear it, can’t you? Shirley Ellis
belting out one of the silliest songs from our youth, her inane The Name Game:

Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley
Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!

And the Bard, in his star-crossed love story, Romeo and Juliet, asked the most infamous of all name questions, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other would smell as sweet.” 

Yet, most of us take names for granted.

Still, like breathing, names are a great leveler, a vast common denominator amongst us.  Anyone who has been born, most likely has been named (although there some cultures where names are earned, not assigned). We search our ancestry through surnames. Mine, Schaefer, seems fairly apt, meaning shepherd. My friends would agree – I do have a tendency to direct and guide, wanted or not.

Haven’t you ever found yourself looking up the meanings of your given name? Mine, Susan, comes from the Hebrew, Šošanna or Shosan meaning graceful lily. (Obviously my mother and father had never seen me try to accomplish a delicate Yoga tree pose.)

We name our pets, our cars… some people, yes you know it’s true, even name their intimate body parts. Blush!

Names can cause quite a bit of emotion. Take the sports team or place names that offend particular groups. Then there are the derogatory names we bully others with which I won’t deign to dignify here (and anyway, there’s been sufficient coverage of such in the national political races of late.)

There are the implausibly coincidental names like my Philadelphia colleague Craig Stock who covered investments, and my friend Pamela who became an officer in the military making her Officer Officer. Or what about those names that are so difficult to spell that they get their own childlike spelling song like the name of our own great river? Em eye ehss – Ehss eye ehss – Ehss eye peepee eye!

I actually get quite perturbed because Minneapolis’ streets don’t have more names and less numbers. The city founders seemed very stingy with names. Take my street for example: It’s First Street, but most cab drivers go to First Avenue, no matter how painstakingly I say ‘street’ when giving directions. Oh yes, and did I mention that my stretch of First Street is only about two city blocks long before it branches into both 21st and 22nd Avenue at its east end, and 14th Avenue at its west? I couldn’t make this up.

Well, now citizens living in our eponymously named Mill City Times district, along with our near northern neighbors in the North Loop or NoLo (formerly known as the Warehouse District), are front row center to the naming game brought about by the development of the new football stadium. (As a long time Central Riverfront advocate I like to think the development action started at our end along this splendid riparian area of the Mississippi where the Guthrie and Mill City Museum had already sparked ongoing development along West River Road [or is it Drive or Parkway?], S. 1st and 2nd Streets, and Washington Avenue.)

No bother, we are here to cheer on this exercise that our neighbors from Downtown East and Elliot Park are now undertaking. Some call it branding, but I think of that as a very hot mark sizzled into the derrière of some hapless creature, so naming will suffice.

Mill City Times is stepping up to the plate with a cattle call of our own: What do you think the area of the new stadium should be called? There is a handy survey for your benefit. We’ll publish the answers as our gift to the good citizens of the East Downtown Council who are working to narrow a list of contenders. Since naming rights are thankfully not being sold for this one, let your originality, and perhaps humor, run wild.

Remember, be wise, be well and laugh a lot.

Susan Schaefer can be reached at susan@millcitytimes.org

Monday
Nov232015

New Hotel Will Help Reverse "Urban Renewal" on Washington Ave.

 

Above: Minneapolis Post Office (front) and the Metroplitan Building (background) in 1908

It's been almost 60 years since our civic leaders began tearing down of the heart of Minneapolis, when an unholy alliance of City Government and real estate moguls joined forces to destroy the oldest, most architecturally and historically significant parts of our city in the name of “urban renewal”.

Using a sales pitch of "competing with the suburbs;" "progress;" and most effective of all - "slum clearance", approximately twenty-five city blocks of 19th and early 20th century buildings – more than 200 in all - fell victim to the wrecking ball. At the time it represented more than 40% of downtown Minneapolis!

Called "an occasion for civic rejoicing" by the press of the late 1950's, by 1965 most of the Downtown East area had been turned into parking lots. Decades of urban blight followed. What would Downtown be like today if the real estate developers had not had their way? Would Minneapolis have followed in the footsteps of cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, where historic buildings were renovated and repurposed for mixed use, including affordable housing? We’ll never know.

The announcement last week of a proposal to build a Marriott Moxy branded hotel on the surface parking lot at Washington & Chicago Ave, combined with currently planned/approved projects nearby, promises to finally reverse a big part of the carnage wrought by a misguided notion of progress.

Here’s what the future looks like for this section of the Mill District:

1. Marriott Moxy & Luxury Apartments

Graves Hospitality is partnering with Minneapolis landowner Basant Kharbanda to develop 150 luxury apartments and a 150-room hotel under the Marriott Moxy brand. The site is a two-acre surface parking lot at the southeast corner of the Washington & Chicago Ave.

2. Thresher Square "East End"

The existing Thresher Building will be converted into a 150-room nationally branded hotel, a new building will house Trader Joe's on the 1st floor with 175 apartments on the upper floors.

3. 205 Park Ave S.

An RFP is expected before year end for this City owned parking lot. Word is the City is leaning toward residential, maybe even condos. Look for a first floor "activated" by some type of retail/restaurant use.

4. 800 Washington S.

Mortenson’s proposed 188-room Hyatt Centric. It will have a 5,300-square-foot restaurant and bar on the corner of Chicago and Washington Avenues. It will also have 2,500 square feet of retail space on the ground floor of the Ninth Avenue corner.

5. The Encore

Under construction, the Encore is a 121 unit luxury apartment development. Part of a Planned Unit Development project that includes the Aloft Hotel and Zenith condos, the parcel was originally to be Zenith II condos.

6. 903 Washington "Stone Arch Hotel"

If it moves forward, the 138-room hotel will have two front doors with a 5,500-square-foot restaurant oriented toward Washington Avenue and a hotel lobby facing U.S. Bank Stadium.

Thursday
Nov192015

Poll - What do you think of the Vikings "Legacy Ship"

The Vikings released photos of the key feature of the new stadium plaza today - The Legacy Ship. At 160 feet long and 45 feet wide, it will be a big part of the new stadium experience. Based on the slide show below, what is your take?