The Core / Gateway

Overview

The Core is what most people think of when they hear the word Downtown:  you have to make a right angle with your neck to see the top of buildings that perpetually shadow concrete strips jammed with cars.  The Gateway is also very high-rise, but as a creature of renewal there are vast parking lots and empty grass lawns dividing the towers.  In my study of density in multifamily buildings in Minneapolis, the 11 buildings I found in these neighborhoods had an average density of 222 units per acre.  Only one building, 6 Quebec, had a double-digit density (50 units per acre – the units are bigger than most single-family homes in Minneapolis), and more than half had densities greater than 200 units per acre.  Symphony Place was the second-densest of the nearly 400 buildings in my study at 403 units per acre.  Even the Atrium, an MPHA high-rise with a large surface parking lot, runs with the big dogs at 249 units per acre.

So it is a dense neighborhood, and density generates the vitality that truly defines the neighborhood.  In my experience, Nicollet Mall is the only street in this city where you can count on pedestrian activity any time of day or year.  While Downtown certainly isn’t the retail powerhouse it used to be, it still has a lot of shops and restaurants to serve the immense numbers of people that come to this area.  So it follows that immense numbers of people might want to live in this area.  But is there room for them?

The Map

The Details

  • In a neighborhood full of prominent sites, one that sticks out even here is the empty lawn that fronts on West River Parkway, in the shadow of the Post Office and the Hennepin Bridge.  While I and many others might prefer that it become a park, it is owned by the Post Office, which financially is more in a position to make a quick buck on land than to bestow assets for the future enjoyment of citizens.  And think of the views, although hopefully one view would be of a perpetual protest against the aesthetic crime of placing a high-rise so close to the towering pillars of the bridge.  More generally pleasing, I think, would be to build condos above the stumpy single story that that juts out of the Post Office parking ramp at the corner of 1st & Hennepin.  While this is also a phenomenal site, there is probably a law against combining living space with post office, so I colored this orange.
  • This neighborhood has many large parking ramps, a few of which have retail or the appearance of retail at the ground floor but are otherwise single-use.  I personally view that as a waste of space, but I’m guessing the owners would say otherwise, if their mouths weren’t stuffed with caviar that they bought with the piles of cash they make off the ramps.  Even though this series is attempting to tell the future, none of us can tell the future, and therefore I can’t know for sure that gas will only get more expensive and no electric or hydrogen car will ever be viable, dooming these hulking ramps to obsolescence.  For that reason, I left them off the map, even though I think they should be redeveloped into something that isn’t just a place to dump your car and leave, and I think that they will be in the next 30-40 years.
  • I’ve noticed a pattern in the more built-up neighborhoods (Harmon Place, Warehouse District):  most of the parcels are designated as High Potential for Redevelopment.  That’s true here too, and it’s true because most of the buildings are already pretty dense.
    • There are a few exceptions on this map:  on the block between 11th, 12th, 2nd and 3rd, I gave that old office building Medium Potential due to its age and the ridiculous degree to which the Ivy towers over it.  On that same block, the Church of Christ, Scientist gets Low Potential because it seems likely that most downtown institutions will continue to draw enough parishioners to sustain themselves, but this one has a really good site relative to the Convention Center that will draw more interest from developers than, say, St Olaf’s.
    • Anyway, most of the High Potential parcels are parking lots, but there are a couple notable exceptions on this map:  the cluster of buildings at Nicollet and 10th that were planned to become a condo tower, and the Normandy Hotel, which due to its age and poor site utilization I believe will suffer the fate of the old Ramada on Hawthorne.
    • A final note along these lines:  the corner of Marquette & 2nd has four developable lots flanking it, two High and two Medium Potential.  Two of the lots are currently used for surface parking, which is easy to cash in for a building and therefore labeled High Potential.  The other two are being used as amenity areas for their buildings; a pool for the apartment building and an awkward plaza/picnic area for the office building.  I thought that because they are adding value to their buildings, they may be less likely to be developed, although obviously both would be just as useful on the roof of a building as at ground level.

The Numbers

Potential Low Density Med Density High Density
High 2292 3152 4012
Low 77 105 134
Medium 298 410 521
Total 2667 3667 4667

Prognosis

The interest in development in this area will be high, but residential will have to compete with office interests.  Despite the bad market for office space, there are rumors of at least one new office building planned for Downtown.  It seems to me that there are enough office towers downtown, and it’s time to start working on concentrating jobs in clusters along radial transit lines, but obviously there has rarely been political will for that kind of planning in the metro.

The best bet for new residential is in the Gateway, which has seen this type of development in the past and could use more.  Because the buildings will likely be built at much higher density than the 140 units per acre that I used for the High Density column, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect an additional 4,000 residents in this neighborhood by 2040.  My hope is it will be more than 8,000.

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6 comments on “The Core / Gateway

  1. mulad says:

    The Postal Service has opened up a big sorting center in Eagan where I’d heard they were consolidating services from both the downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis offices. They’ve mostly moved out of the St. Paul office — it actually has a “For Sale” sign on it last I heard (though the USPS will probably rent back some space to maintain their retail presence). I don’t know anything about the state of the Minneapolis office, but it could very well be opened up for residential or other development.

  2. * Yep, the empty parcel right next to the post office is really under-utilized. I suppose housing would be a decent use. Or maybe some kind of facility that dovetails with the park? A bike repair place? Or bike rental? Hmm.

    * Speaking of which: why is the post office building so monolithic and unfriendly? Why couldn’t they design some retail space on the park level? It’s so frustrating that the Main St side of the river has a nice promenade w/ shops, but the other bank is so desolate.

    • Wow great ideas Stephen. I’m not proposing housing here, just analyzing every single available parcel to see how many people we could cram into Downtown. A bike shop would be amazing – I imagine a ziggurat-like structure leading down from Hennepin to the Parkway that would house a bike shop, coffee shop, etc.

      The reason I suppose there isn’t much retail on the right bank is that it was a vast rail yard until pretty recently. The downtown stretch of West River Parkway was built in 86, so it hasn’t had a lot of time to reorient itself. That said, the Post Office is an amazing building with a patio that seems to be taylor-made for outdoor cafe seating. Like I said, though, I’m sure there is some regulation that prevents them from profiting off of anything but stamps that prevents anything good from coming out of that building.

      • So, let’s imagine a bright future for the waterfront… I often walk–when the weather’s good, anyway–“the circuit” in my neighborhood:

        * Across stone arch
        * Down the west parkway
        * Up the stairs and across Hennepin
        * Across Nicollet island
        * Down Main St

        It’s a great walk, about 2.2 miles altogether. And very pretty. And the Main St side is really beautiful, filled with people, and filled with commerce.

        So: What would it take to make the other bank equally full of activity? Wouldn’t it be awesome if both banks had active waterfront activities? Why couldn’t there be restaurants and cafes on the west bank? The space is there, but the zoning isn’t. Maybe it could happen…

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