Crippled Creek

After a century of empty promises, Minneapolis officials are finally poised to spruce up the polluted waterway that meanders through the city's north side. What changed? The buying power of the people who will live there.

The Bassett Creek Master Plan has incorporated many of the design center's recommendations into the new development. But resolving the wetland issues will be costly and could take a considerable amount of time, says Lois Eberhart, near-north-side manager for Open Space and Infrastructure for the City of Minneapolis. Eberhart says the development will use green spaces to treat storm water. "There will be a large pond south of Olson Memorial Highway and a small pond to the north," she explains. "We're planning to use bioengineering in the form of natural plants to treat the water, which will also be an amenity for the area."

After nearly a century's worth of development by heavy industry, there are at least two Superfund sites and several contaminated parcels of land within the proposed development area. Private companies will be responsible for at least part of the cleanup efforts, says Eberhart. But just how much money it will take to make this land safe is unknown at this time. "It's too premature to give cost estimates," she says. "It's difficult to know how many years it will take to do all of this, but we're looking at funding sources and there's a lot of interest in making this happen."

In addition to wetland issues that will complicate development along the creek, the city faces several other obstacles. On the wish list is a north-south boulevard that would run from Dunwoody Boulevard, just north of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, to the new community on the Hollman site. An uncovered Bassett Creek, Leighton says, may run along the median of this "gateway to the north side." But to make way for a tree-lined thoroughfare, at least two heavily polluted industrial sites will have to be cleaned up. Even then, if left in their current locations near Interstate 394, the Minneapolis Impound Lot and Linden Yards, where the city's Department of Public Works stores heavy equipment and crushes concrete, will be visible from the new boulevard. That's not quite the beautiful doorway to the north side that the city had in mind.

"It's just too soon to say what will happen," Leighton explains. "But it's a time of incredible opportunity, because the area north of Glenwood is being dramatically redeveloped."

He knows that the city's plans have some residents worried that they may not be able to afford to stay in the neighborhood much longer. "We need to be careful about how we direct development so it doesn't overrun everything around it," he explains. "We want improvement, so we want poor neighborhoods to have more middle-income houses in them. But we want to ensure that it isn't a complete transformation so the poor don't get pushed out. It's a tricky balance."

 

"Revitalization of the commercial elements of Glenwood Avenue in the Bassett Creek Valley area depends upon the buying power of the new community to be developed in the Near Northside area."

--An excerpt from the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan, 2000

 

Last month a few hundred people gathered just off Olson Memorial Highway on Emerson Avenue North to participate in a ceremony to break ground on the $200 million redevelopment. City council president Jackie Cherryhomes counted to three and Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, Minneapolis Community Development Agency executive director Steve Cramer, and others ceremoniously dug into the earth using shovels decorated by North High School students.

Members of the school's choir sang, Harvest Preparatory Charter School drill-team members marched, and Butterfly Dancers from the Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association, Inc. swirled in brightly colored costumes while residents, developers, and politicians mingled and snacked. The evictions and protests of the last five years suddenly seemed far behind, and talk turned toward the future.

The city plans to replace the Hollman site's barracks-style public-housing units with 900 homes meant to blend in with the surrounding neighborhoods. Spacious duplexes, townhouses, and single-family homes designed in traditional architectural styles will have backyards, front porches, gabled dormers, and off-street parking. Tot lots and community gardens will give people a chance to get to know their neighbors; parks will offer a place to stroll.

It's a beautiful vision that's been too long in coming, says Minneapolis real estate broker Sandy Green. "It's an area that has a lot of value but nobody was willing to pay for it," she says. "People would point to the projects and say they were the problem, but I think it was really more about the lack of amenities in the area."

But access to the creek may change that; proximity to water is everything when it comes to property values, continues Green, a longtime member of the Minneapolis Tenants Union and a vocal critic of the city's redevelopment plans. "If you look at home prices, you'll see that even half a block away from any kind of water the value starts to drop," she notes.

"Clearing out the Hollman site meant they could finally have the right formula over on the near north side after all these years," says Green. "You can bet that if the people over in Kenwood had wanted a lake dredged out in their neighborhood it would have gotten done a long time ago. But over north no one had any money, so the city had no tax base to get pressure from. Spending money to uncover a creek for them would have just been wasted, now, wouldn't it."

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1 comments
tgilliss
tgilliss

I'd love to see the City Pages use this story -- and others like -- as a starting point for a new series of retrospective pieces. So much has happened in such a short time. Many things look so different. And, others, well, not so much.

 

It's 12 years later. What was promised and has gone unfulfilled? What projects were completed and how have they benefited the communities they impacted? Are these long-term planning projects still on track, or have other pressing priorities commandeered budgets? All these types of questions and stories. And with all the multimedia possibilities, your readers could get a better visual grasp of where plans came to fruition or remained statice.

 
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