Mpls. council backs concept for riverfront development

City council members vote to approve the Upper Harbor Terminal plan
Minneapolis city council members vote to approve the Upper Harbor Terminal concept plan progresses as Mayor Frey and community members listen in the city hall council chamber, Friday, March 1, 2019.
Gabriel Kwan | MPR News

The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously Friday to approve a redevelopment concept for a section of Mississippi riverfront in north Minneapolis.

The Upper Harbor Terminal plan concerns 48 acres of riverfront. It envisions entertainment facilities and affordable housing, and it would restore river access to nearby neighborhoods.

A concept drawing of the Upper Harbor Terminal proposed arts center.
A concept drawing of the Upper Harbor Terminal proposed community performing arts center. See the full concept plan here.
Courtesy of City of Minneapolis

The plan's journey from the drawing board to the City Council has not been smooth. The voting process was repeatedly delayed, and resentment has been building among community groups and interest groups that are concerned with river issues.

One community group, the Eco Harbor Co-Creation team, said the city has not engaged the public adequately, nor kept its interests in mind.

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"It's a little frustrating for the community to have to bring to the attention of elected officials that they need to include residents, that they need to apply equity, that they need to engage with the principles of the Promise Zone," said Catherine Fleming, a member of the Co-Creation team.

The National Park Service issued a statement Feb. 26, voicing its own concerns that the plan's land-use allocation does not acknowledge the river.

"There is opportunity for the performing arts center, hub and hospitality center to, in their design and intention, draw inspiration from the river and related history such as lumber milling and barging," the Park Service statement said. "Instead it seems they could be located on any street in any city or suburb."

Opponents of the plan have a largely unified message: Delay the process so that the development team can come up with alternative designs that align with economic and environmental goals.

The city has been working on multiple fronts to reply to that message.

At an Economic Development and Regulatory Services committee meeting last month, committee member Philippe Cunningham proposed the addition of a 15-member community planning and engagement group to the development process.

Community members and students protest the concept plan.
North Minneapolis community members and University of Minnesota students protest the approval of the Upper Harbor Terminal concept plan passed by the Minneapolis City Council by holding up a banner after the vote, Friday, March 1, 2019. The banner reads: "The people have spoken; you've turned your backs. The Mississipi river is sacred."
Gabriel Kwan | MPR News

"This group will have some hard-choice work ahead of them," said Cunningham. He added that responsibilities for the group included "looking at where we should do feasibility and environmental studies" and coming up with alternative designs.

The mayor and City Council will appoint members from different Minneapolis neighborhoods and interest groups. After their appointment, the group will have 60 days to review the plan.

Before the Friday vote, Council Member Cameron Gordon said he understood concerns raised by the community about inadequate engagement.

"I know that there's still some angst in the community over this issue, but I just want to acknowledge that I see this as a real pivot point," Gordon said. "We've clarified in the committee that this is a framework, and there's flexibility in it to make changes."

With the council's affirmative vote, the development team moves to fashion a coordinated plan, where more details will be nailed down.