Park Commissioner: North Minneapolis Shut Out of Riverfront Renaissance

Will north Minneapolis ever see something like Waterworks?

Will north Minneapolis ever see something like Waterworks?

Minneapolis has grand plans to redevelop its industrial northern riverfront into a group of parks connected by trails -- "like pearls on a string necklace" is an analogy favored by Park Board Commissioners.

But after scooping up numerous properties on northeast Minneapolis's riverfront and approving a $24 million plan for Waterworks on the downtown riverfront, Park Board Commissioner Jon Olson is wondering when north Minneapolis will see some investment.

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"It just continues to amaze me that I haven't seen anything happen on this side of the river for quite a long time now," said Olson, who represents the north Minneapolis. "If I don't see some things happen pretty soon I'm going to get really surly and cranky and just not a fun person to talk to," he told Renay Leone, the Park Board real estate coordinator, at its last board meeting.

Olson's comments came right before the Park Board unanimously approved paying $1.9 million for a roughly one acre chunk of riverfront next to Psycho Suzi's. In 2012 the Park Board paid $1.4 million for another two acres nearby, in addition to several other smaller recent acquisitions speckled along Northeast's riverfront.

Although Olson maintains he's happy with the Park Board's ambitious vision for riverfront revival, this was not the first time he warned about the lack of investment in north Minneapolis recently. He spoke up before the gaudy Waterworks plan was approved last month:

"I just fear that if we get too heavy in one area -- and it seems like this is being pushed by interests and people with money -- and other parts of the city are not being pushed and built and dreamed upon then there's going to be some blowback," he said.

It's worth noting private funding is likely to pay for much of Waterworks' hefty price tag, and the Park Board uses grants from the Met Council and Mississippi Watershed Management Organization to pay for almost all of its riverfront purchases.

Leone couldn't recall the last time the Park Board bought property on the North Side, but she says she's actively pursuing several properties right now and that land acquisition is affected more by timing than organizational priorities.

"I think [Olson] is absolutely justified in asking when we're going to be buying more land on that side of the river, but the reality is we've had willing sellers in Northeast, and on the other side of the river most property owners are not willing to give up or relocate their businesses at this time," said Leone when we caught up with her yesterday.

Any of north Minneapolis's perceived slights over riverfront purchases may be forgotten once the city figures out its plan to redevelop the 48-acre Upper Harbor Terminal after it closes next year, but right now that plan is still years away from being finalized.