Watching Uptown grow

Looking at a booming area through longtime residents' eyes

While many consider Uptown a bustling place for renters, shoppers and diners, the area is also home to people who've raised families there for decades.

On the heels of the City Council's approval of the Lagoon Project (see adjoining story), longtime Uptown residents are reflecting on the growth they've witnessed, what it's like to live near what some call an entertainment epicenter, and what they hope is still to come for the area.

Durant and Thatcher Imboden, father and son, respectively, have lived in Uptown since the late 1970s.

Thatcher Imboden, an author of a book on the area's history, said the current development spurt is part of an ongoing cycle that can be seen in 1920s newspaper clippings, when five large buildings were erected in the area.

Today, in addition to the high-profile Lagoon project, Calhoun Square, 3001 Hennepin Ave. S. adjoining buildings will soon get a major renovation.

Meanwhile, a six-story condo development called the Edgewater is rising near Lake Calhoun's northeast corner, with three residential developments close to the lake's north side expected to follow. For good measure, a 42-unit, five-story condo building called "The Edge" is also in the planning stages at the corner of West Lake Street & Emerson Avenue South.

The Imbodens note that despite the activity on the horizon, to them, there's actually been a lull in area activity over the past several years.

"It's been an exponential drop-off in daytime activity" since the 1980s and '90s, Durant Imboden said. He said the Lagoon project, approved as a 10-story condo building and five-story office complex, could bring jobs to reverse the slide.

Others are more leery. Janice Burr has lived at West 33rd Street & Hennepin Avenue South for over 26 years and raised children there. While she said that she's liked much of the area's development, she's worried about the neighborhood's charming nature being disrupted.

"With all that stuff going on, you feel like you're not going to have free space," she said. "I'm concerned about the [lack of] greenspace and uniqueness."

Positive and negative change

Joe and Jan Rigert have lived on the 3000 block of Colfax Avenue South for four decades and have distinct opinions on the area's direction.

Joe Rigert said when he and his wife came to the area in 1965, a home east of Hennepin was a bargain. "This was a very marginal area," he said, noting the floundering retail district of the time.

Now, Rigert calls Uptown one of the most "vital" places in the Twin Cities.

"We love it," he said. While Rigert said he could see how some residents could think the proposed buildings are too tall, "Overall, most of these developments have been a good thing," he said.

Joe Rigert recalled that many people - including some of his children - opposed Calhoun Square when it was first proposed in the late '70s. However, the development is now an essential part of Uptown's fabric, and he suspects the new ones will be, too. "I am, generally speaking, opposed to most change, until it's changed," he said with a grin.

Jan Rigert said she's enjoyed the amenities created because she can walk to everything. The Rigert's said, when they're not entertaining a gaggle of grandchildren, they like to hike, bike - often on the Midtown Greenway - and swim in the nearby lake. "It's a wonderful area to grow old in," she said.

The Imbodens agree, saying that they rarely use their car and like that they can often walk where they need to go - like weekly trips to Davanni's, 1414 W. Lake St. They said they like that the area has so many public amenities, like the library.

However, traffic is a worry that unites development backers and skeptics.

"Traffic has gotten worse. You're just dodging cars," Burr said, making it harder to walk and bike in the area.

Jan Rigert said that living right off Lake Street has made many CARAG avenues such as hers a cut-through for traffic - no longer the safe street in which her eight children played growing up.

Amid the glitzy condo plans, the Imbodens and Burr noted a loss of basic area services, such as the post office, formerly in Calhoun Square, and Walgreens on the 2900 block of Hennepin. Burr also noted the recent loss of the neighborhood convenience store, Morris & Christie's, on the corner of 31st Street & Hennepin Avenue South. "That was sad that Morris and Christie's went," she said.

Burr said she would like to see some smaller stores like that and like the neighborhood stores replaced by Calhoun Square decades ago. Thatcher Imboden also thinks the area needs a tweak in its business mix, which he said is too heavy with restaurants and bars.

Durant Imboden agreed. "If you want to survive and have a healthy district, you have to have a mix," he said, adding that hopefully the Calhoun Square redevelopment can accomplish this.

For example, he likes the idea of adding Best Buy to the Calhoun Square plans. Said Imboden, "If you want to buy an IPod why should you go to Richfield?" where the closest Best Buy is located.

Can't you be my neighbor?

Beyond their own situations, all the longtime residents worry about the amount and affordability of area housing.

Jan Rigert said one of the great changes during her time in the area has been more neighborhood diversity, partly fueled by the English classes taught at the Lehman Center, on the corner of Lake Street & Colfax Avenue South. "It's like the world walking through your neighborhood," she said.

However, market forces seem to be driving out lower-income residents, especially renters. Burr, a homeowner, said some of the Uptown area apartments are really expensive, and much of the area's housing stock has seen more turn over in the last five to eight years.

Burr said she doesn't dislike development, but she does want to preserve the "small-town" neighborhood atmosphere. She said she worries the influx of developers don't have that in mind. "It is a lot at one time," she said.