When All Else Fails, Books Can Lead the Way

According to this New York Times article, it wasn’t technology or business that rejuvenated the Minneapolis Warehouse District. It was books.

Times writer Lisa Chamberlain details the decline of the "thriving flour mill district along the Mississippi River," that "later became seedy bars and flophouses," in her April 30 piece.

When a plan for a technology corridor went defunct, a collaboration between three nonprofit organizations paved the way to the area's new found development with the Open Book Literary Arts Center, the largest literary and books art hub in the U.S., Chamberlain writes.

It is not uncommon for the arts to revitalize a neighborhood, but it is certainly unusual for old-fashioned literature and books to lead the way.

Open Book Literary Art’s Center debut in May, 2000, led the way for a several other artisan groups now in the area, including the Guthrie Theater, the Mill City Museum, the Mac Phail Center for Music, Minneapolis Central library and other theaters and galleries.

More than 1,000 new residential units have been built as well as new and redeveloped commercial property, increasing the value of neighborhood property to $334 million in 2006, from an estimated $25 million in 1994, according to the Metropolitan Council, a Twin Cities regional development organization. Where a sea of parking lots once existed, there is now a parking problem.

But, if books were to lead development anywhere, it’s no surprise that it’s here in Minneapolis, the nation’s most literate city. With the Loft Literary Center providing writing classes and space for readings; the Minnesota Center for Book Arts offering equipment and space for work in letterpress printing, hand bookbinding and papermaking; and Milkweed Editions offering an opportunity to publish, the non-profit collaborative has made the world of reading, writing and publishing accessible to everyone, Chamberlain writes.

The piece is filled with other interesting tidbits about the architecture and interior design of Open Book's space along Washington Avenue between the University and downtown, and the determined work of architect Garth Rockcastle, of Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle.

"I had to convince them that the whole area was worthwhile....The neighborhood was precisely the exact center of three things: downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, and the three main highway arteries,” which was important, since few people lived in the area then.