Slowing, but still growing: Thoughts about Uptown’s future from Southwest community leaders

Uptown is diverse. Vibrant. Eclectic. Ever-changing. Thriving.

Words that longtime residents use to describe the neighborhood. Words that appear on the signs that advertise new condos and apartment complexes.

The condo boom sparked controversy among residents and developers and significantly changed the face of the neighborhood in a few short years. It also ignited conversations on what Uptown is and could be, which led to the creation of the Uptown Small Area Plan for the neighborhood to guide development.

While the development headiness of recent years is a distant memory, and while several projects have cooled or stalled over the last year, Uptown is still the
busiest Southwest neighborhood for development.

So in four short years from now, what will (and could) Uptown look like?

The answer, well, it depends who you ask. Here are some thoughts from some people prominently and deeply involved in Uptown’s recent past and planning for its future.

(Note: Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.)

Stuart Ackerberg: CEO and owner of the Ackerberg Group in Southwest; developer of several projects in Southwest and Uptown, including Mozaic, the large mixed-use project proposed along Lagoon Avenue near Hennepin Avenue.

"The most dynamic thing for us is the energy in Uptown, the density that already exists. There are always going to be some (development) challenges because of that, but you end up with a better overall project if you can dream through and implement a project that complements everyone involved. It’s hard to think of a project that hasn’t worked in the core of Uptown.

"I don’t think the condos are going to come back for some time … We’ll continue to see new apartments. Still not a strong inventory of contemporary apartments, and people will continue to desire better-quality apartment living.

"The key to vibrancy is daytime population. Uptown needs office space for that. Retailers, restaurateurs, they need to make all their sales from late afternoon until 9 p.m. If you go to other commercial corridors, they sell goods from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at night. [Uptown businesses] have a compressed period of time to sell goods and services. It’s hard to do it. Not enough time and volume.

"What would really be dynamic is to figure out a transportation link between Lyn-Lake, Uptown and the lakes. A streetcar, a minibus, whatever. If I wanted to eat at Chino Latino and then go to the Jungle Theater and see a show, it’s a hassle to park in both places. We could eliminate so many cars and really knit in the sense of community in these neighborhoods. They’re all bifurcated, trying to figure out how to independently thrive and survive instead of collaborating to become part of a greater, healthier community.

"Density, demand, spending power, a transportation loop, we’ve already mapped it out. We just need to implement it."

Ralph Remington: Neighborhood activist and first-term council member who ran for the Ward 10 seat four years ago partially on a platform of reforming and rethinking Uptown development.

"For the first time ever, there’s a comprehensive land-use plan (the Small Area Plan) for Uptown. Everyone’s playing from the same sheet of music; there’s no guesswork, no piecemeal zoning.

"[Controversial development prior to the plan] wasn’t anyone’s fault, developers are out to make money and some care about what the community looks like. And the community is trying to protect the character of neighborhoods.

"We need to remove surface parking lots and make Uptown more pedestrian-friendly. We need walkable neighborhoods, and a link to Lyn-Lake with a street-level circulator.

"When I wake up four years from now, I’d like to see a vibrant commercial area that’s respectful of residential neighborhoods, a circulator that brings neighborhoods together, developers always respectful of the [Small Area Plan], an area where pedestrians feel safe, where there’s adequate street lighting, with bicycle cops on patrol. Light-rail transit running through and a streetcar running nearby. Those are the things I look at.

"The great thing about Uptown is that while other areas have been depressed as far as construction and development, Uptown hasn’t. It’s just changed … It’s going in the right direction."

Thatcher Imboden: Co-wrote "Uptown Minneapolis," a book on the neighborhood’s history; serves on the board of the Uptown Association, the neighborhood’s chamber of commerce; runs, an aggregate of Uptown news, information and events.

"If it’s for sure that (the Southwest Transitway proposed light-rail) will connect Uptown to the suburbs and downtown, we’ll see hotel development, or at least people trying to assemble land … Unless the economy completely shuts down, there will be new buildings. Uptown has the land.

"We need to see more office uses. And a hotel. And more service businesses. If we can create office space and keep the vacancy rate low, it’ll change the character. Most of the places [in Uptown] are known for nighttime business.

"We’re going to have to figure out the parking piece. I’m not too concerned about losing parking lots for individual users. With Calhoun Square’s ramp expanding, with Mozaic’s (proposed mixed-use complex at Lagoon & Fremont avenues) ramp, we’re increasing parking and consolidating it. Even if you know there aren’t a whole lot of surface parking lots, at least you know you have somewhere to park.

"We’ll see a fair amount of retailers and restaurants close in the next few years. They just aren’t getting the sales right now. Unfortunately, these are the livelihoods of people, but when the cycle finishes, we’re well-positioned … Once we hear who the new tenants are at Calhoun Square, Uptown will have direction in where it will go for the next decade.

"Uptown has been a major destination for all of its existence, from the 1880s when there was a major hotel near Lake Calhoun, to the 1920s when three streetcar lines met up there, to the 1950s when there was an ice rink and Rainbow Café. It’s just a matter of making sure we maintain our regional connections."

Craig Wilson: Co-founder of Kandiyohi Development Partners, a downtown green consulting and development firm; firm is on obtaining LEED certification for Blue, the Lyn-Lake apartment complex; Lowry Hill resident.

"Uptown has become a magnet for people to come from all over the city to be entertained on Friday and Saturday nights. It can be more."

"I love the Lucia’s Restaurant block [31st Street & Hennepin Avenue]. And the trail that goes underneath Lake Street. These intimate, human-scale spaces become the most important places. As opposed to the new, improved Calhoun Square … are we going to continue to develop malls? Or are we going to direct [development] in a different way?"

"With [the poor economy], we’re going to see a lot of good businesses lost. The upside is maybe instead of the chains that came in and brought in escalating real estate prices, Uptown will become more affordable for smaller businesses.

"I love the feeling of other [cities] that are made up of independent, original, interesting places, and the stories between those places … [Ward 7 Council Member] Lisa Goodman has done a pretty good job on focusing on real-world projects that promote that. A dog park sounds superficial, but dog parks are a way to build community, to create green space, to secure neighborhoods. Uptown needs those kinds of projects."

Laura Norkus-Crampton: City planning commission member; East Calhoun resident and former ECCO board member; served on Uptown Small Area Plan steering committee; active in community development issues for several years.

"This area wasn’t always seen as such a perfect area. There were parts of Uptown considered borderline. But some people stuck it out, they invested, and you want those people who will be there for the long haul. There will be good times again.

"People pay dearly to live here, pay a lot of property taxes, and I think it’s as important to preserve those long-term stakeholders that help build and maintain our city as it is to invite new uses, new neighbors. That’s the balancing act.

"One of the things we tried to work out in the Small Area Plan is what should happen where. Intensive development happens in the area between Lake and Lagoon, with plenty of buffer areas between commercial and residential. There are very high-quality residential places, and sometimes they’re basically right next door [to commercial buildings].

"We want to move away from using the car everywhere to walking, busing, biking. Winter is really the challenge. We’ve been asking for four-season amenities: Solar access to streets, limit shadowing, create alcoves that face south, wind-blocking strategies. It’s pretty simple stuff but it all adds up to something.

"[Uptown] needs obvious wayfinding. Lighting and sidewalks and park benches and all these things that let you know that somebody’s glad you’re there. More connectivity for walking and biking trails from the Chain of Lakes into Uptown. There are people who drive to the lakes, bike around the lakes, then get in their car and drive to Uptown. How do we change that?

"We have a pretty strong vision for what we want this area to be. We just have to implement the [Uptown Small Area Plan] … If it’s only a piece of paper sitting on a shelf, we’ve wasted a lot of people’s time."