the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities

A Brief Tour of Minneapolis (Part 1)

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The Mississippi River as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge.

The Mississippi River as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge.

It’s been a busy few months. Included in that time, Cailie and I went to Minnesota for a friends wedding. Despite being from the midwest, this was my first time in Minneapolis. Though Minneapolis is on the wrong side of the lake and thus suffers from bad geographic luck, what I found was an amazing city.

We flew in on a stormy Wednesday night and rode the Blue line to Target Field where a friend we were staying with picked us up. Even at night, it seems like much of the line was surrounded by parking lots as opposed to urban development. Though there are downsides to this, it does result in great potential for transit oriented development in the future.

We ended up staying in the Victory neighborhood in Northwest Minnesota. It was a very cute single family residential neighborhood. The homes weren’t ostentatious and since garages were accessed from rear alleys, the streets had a very pedestrian feel to them.

Thursday morning, Cailie and I hopped on bike and took part of the Grand Rounds towards downtown. The trails were amazingly easy to use and I could imagine making long bike commutes on them on a regular basis. The problem we had was the weather. With an occasional drizzle changing to rain, we stopped off at Venture North (a bike and coffee shop) in the Harrison Neighborhood. We enjoyed some coffee and were able to get some free 24 hour trials for the Nice Bike system.

At this point, expecting more rain, we decided to take an Uber into downtown and meet up with another friend in town for the wedding. The Uber driver gave us an impromptu tour of the downtown, including the new Bob Dylan mural and an area of clubs and venues where his band was playing that night. Ultimately we went to the Hen House to meet our friend for lunch.

IDS Center

IDS Center

After lunch, the weather was clearing up slightly so we decided to explore downtown and started going through the skywalk system. We entered through the Philip Johnson designed Crystal Court at the IDS Center. Perhaps I have a negative disposition to these sorts of areas, but I found myself very uncomfortable and disorientated. One of the things that bothered me is that though these skywalks function as a public space, in no way whatsoever are they actually a public space. If you were to set up and play some music for tips, you would be kicked out. If you were to ask for change, you would be kicked out. And most importantly, if you were to protest either a company or a government policy in these skywalks, you would be kicked out. If your first amendment rights are not respected, you are not in a public place. At best these are convenient linear malls: no spontaneity allowed.

New residential buildings are being integrated along side old grain elevators in St. Anthony Main.

New residential buildings are being integrated along side old grain elevators in St. Anthony Main.

Subsequently, we left the skywalks and roamed the real downtown Minneapolis: I was rather disappointed. Everywhere seemed to be monoliths to a grand corporate structure or chain restaurants and stores. Once again, no spontaneity allowed. It made me wonder if any major city downtown can be cool. We walked along the river and across the Stone Arch Bridge to the Saint Anthony Main neighborhood. Here seemed to be a cool neighborhood. There was section of great grain industry to residential conversions and along Main street there were a series of restaurants. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to fully explore the area. Nonetheless I was impressed.

After St. Anthony Main, we had to meet another friend as he came in on the light rail from the airport. We decided to get some brews and settled on Fulton Brewery. My friends were going to a Twins game so it was conveniently located for them. We enjoyed a couple of beers and upon leaving, talked to an employee who happened to be from my hometown. Cailie and I had been planning on going to Surly Brewing Company, but were given the advice to head to the North East neighborhood for their restaurants and breweries.

The Central Ave facade of Red 20 includes several small shops that contribute to the public realm.

The Central Ave facade of Red 20 includes several small shops that contribute to the public realm.

The First Ave facade of Red 20 is wasted due to an unnecessary garage entrance and ground floor parking.

The First Ave facade of Red 20 is wasted due to an unnecessary garage entrance and ground floor parking.

Cailie and I used our Nice Bike passes and rode over the Mississippi. We stopped and got some food at the Rusty Taco. The food and beer there was good. What I found particularly interesting was a new development across the street: Red 20. Red 20 fronts onto Central Ave, 6th Street and 1st Ave. Along Central Ave, it is lined with several retail bays that are not overly large. 1st Ave unfortunately doesn’t fare as well. Here half of the frontage is occupied by a garage entrance and structured parking. At least the corner on 6th street includes some retail. 6th Street contains the lobby to the apartment, several retail units and for some unexplainable reason, another garage entrance. This development would have been much improved if it had ensured the 1st Avenue experience was of the same quality as Central Avenue. There should only be one garage entrance and parking should be hidden from 1st Ave. That said, it does seem to be a better development than much of the new development that I see. This neighborhood is primed for more development. The quality of the public realm will determine whether this will be a neighborhood that people want to spend time in or if it will simply be a place people live.

From here we headed up to Bauhaus Brew Labs. This was cool. Bauhaus is located in an old industrial park and really makes the best of its context: some of the industrial equipment can still be seen. While we were there, the McNasty Brass Band was playing. Great urban environment, great beer and great music were convincing me to rethink my opinion of Minneapolis from earlier in the day. Seems that all I had to do to find the cool areas was to get out of downtown. This will be the subject of my next post.

The McNasty Brass Band plays at the Bauhaus Brewery in Northeast Minneapolis.

The McNasty Brass Band plays at the Bauhaus Brewery in Northeast Minneapolis.

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