Surprise! Heritage Park Is Not Hell on Earth

A tour of Minneapolis's newest and most rigorously engineered neighborhood

While the new ponds are great for the Mississippi, they make glaring one of the project's greatest failures: The city didn't dish out the money to uncover Bassett's Creek, which runs directly under Heritage Park in a manmade conduit. Essentially a north side Minnehaha Creek, this portion of Bassett's was buried during the early 1900s in order to solve flooding problems and make way for housing. (It runs open through Theodore Wirth Park and part of Bryn Mawr.) Green space was never a priority in poor neighborhoods, as it was on Minneapolis's south side. But residents want that to change. Repeatedly, during the myriad focus groups, they stated the desire to "daylight" one of the north side's only water amenities.

When asked why, with the area dug up anyway, the city didn't fulfill this overwhelming wish, Eberhart explained that nowadays, there is too much street runoff for the creek to handle, making the conduit necessary. Okay, but why not build a streambed and keep the conduit for overflow? The quick answer seems to be that it was less trouble to build the ponds. "Routing some creek flow into Heritage Park's water amenities was considered," says Eberhart. "Calculations determined, however, that the area's precipitation--without adding creek flow--is sufficient to maintain water levels." She also mentioned the obvious difficulty in building a creek when Olson Memorial and the Summit Academy sit in the middle of the new development.

When I asked the same question of Darrell Washington, senior project coordinator for the Minneapolis Department of Community Planning and Economic Development, he got directly to the point: "It was not possible to do something like that with limited dollars."

Michael Knapp


Lara, Malafa, and I entered the front door of a vacant one-bedroom apartment. It was spanking new and spacious at almost 750 square feet. I asked, "Is this a public housing unit or a fair market unit?" It was a trick question, to which Lara responded with a trick answer. Although a tenant was due to move in any day, she said she wasn't sure. And that's the point. The apartments are exactly the same whether a tenant is paying the fair market rent of $770, the slightly subsidized tax credit rate of $640, or 30 percent of a family's income, which can be as low as $50.

The apartment was covered in wall-to-wall thick tan pile carpeting. (FYI: Painting the walls any color besides white is expressly verboten.) The rooms were good-sized, the storage closets ample. The overall feel was of a solid, if sterile, living space. The only tacky touches were the coated-wire closet shelves and the white plastic mullions that dissect some of the windows in order to create the illusion of more expensive multi-pane glass.

We rounded the corner into a hallway that led to a well-lit bathroom with a tub and shower and white tiles that had never seen mildew or loose hair. Mounted on the wall was a security system panel. All the apartments have them. Each is programmed, explained Malafa, to set off a deafening blast at the first sign of danger. Tenants are free to connect the systems to outside security agencies at their own expense (there is no centralized Heritage Park system). When asked whether the alarms are a nod toward security-minded renters nervous about living in Near North, Lara responded that they exist only to help the complex "be in competition. It's an additional amenity."

But, clearly, Heritage Park is concerned about safety. Witness the vandalism that took place in late May on the project grounds, south of Olson Memorial. Two 10-year-old boys hijacked a 100,000-pound excavator and drove around until they'd caused an estimated $500,000 worth of damage. They snapped a power pole in half, cutting power to KMOJ radio for 17 hours.

Says McCormack Baron's Swain, "The number one security feature at any property is lighting. We took great pains to make sure there weren't dark spots and dark corners on the property. Number two is access to the buildings. We have controlled, locked access. Most units have a common access hallway. The hallway is also well lit, with big windows. It's a subtle approach." Not so subtle is the patrol firm that drives through the site during evenings. "We hired them," says Swain. "We may use some police officers as well in the future. We haven't had many problems yet, as far as major crime. We've had some minor break-ins to cars. Minneapolis is a small-town nice deal."

Next to the bathroom was a large utility closet with a full-sized Whirlpool washer and dryer, a personal furnace/air conditioner, and a water heater. Tenants control the climate in their apartments and pay for gas and electricity. It's the washers and dryers that are most beloved, but other amenities include garages, community garden plots, "tot lots," gazebos, a soon-to-be-finished exercise facility, and a party room with a gas fireplace.

The apartment's kitchen was brightly lit, with an open, walk-through design. It had a white Whirlpool dishwasher, fridge, and stove, and also a garbage disposal. According to Walser, in some units, the cabinets located closest to the stove have buckled due to heat. "That should not happen," she says. "They are being replaced." Also, there have been minor wall cracks as the buildings have settled. Those, too, are being repaired.

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