Signs of momentum for the Upper Harbor Terminal site

A new vision for the city’s Upper Harbor Terminal site on the Mississippi River is coming into sharper focus.

The City Council’s Community Development & Regulatory Services Committee voted Tuesday to allow city staff to start working with Park Board officials on an agreement outlining how to proceed with a redevelopment plan for the 50-acre city-owned parcel on the upper riverfront.

The full Council will consider the committee’s action at its Jan. 15 meeting.

The Upper Harbor Terminal in North Minneapolis operated as a commercial barging terminal from the 1960s until the end of 2014. Now city leaders are moving ahead with plans to redevelop the site into a destination park with private development and other amenities.

City Council President Barb Johnson (Ward 4) said she’s hopeful the site will attract strong interest from developers given the success of riverfront revitalization efforts in other parts of the city and the recent closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam. The lock closed in June after more than 50 years in operation in an effort to prevent the spread of invasive carp.

“I am celebrating this day,” Johnson said at the Council committee meeting. “This offers us the next step in redeveloping our riverfront. … It’s just going to be fantastic.”

City Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) said it’s taken the city five decades to get to this point.

She also commended city staff for clearly outlining ways to measure the success of redevelopment, which include: creating a “first-class” regional park for North Minneapolis and the metro area as a whole, attracting high quality private development that includes jobs that will benefit residents of North Minneapolis, bringing a significant “riverfront-oriented destination” to the site near Dowling Avenue, adding a tribute to the history of site, incorporating sustainable features, connecting the site to the “fabric of the community” and achieving “equitable development principles.”

A tentative timeline envisions a call for developers to work on the redevelopment project in the spring with responses due in August and the selection of a developer by the end of 2016, according to a staff report presented to the Council. City staff and park staff if they choose to be involved would then work on crafting a redevelopment plan.

The City Council adopted a legislative agenda early 2015 that included seeking special tax-increment financing (TIF) legislation to help facilitate the redevelopment of the Upper Harbor Terminal site.

Ann Calvert, a principal project coordinator for CPED, has said the site has the potential to attract $100 million in private development and thousands of jobs if it can attract a business park and other mixed-use development.

To get ready for redevelopment, the site needs to be cleared, an overhead electrical transmission needs to be moved and new streets have to be built.

City officials are seeking special TIF legislation because current TIF legislation requires sites to have blighted buildings, not blighted infrastructure, as is the case with the Upper Harbor Terminal.