Change in Uptown

Community, Featured — By on February 25, 2013 11:25 pm

The Star Tribune published a story today discussing the perceptions of change taking place in Uptown. In it, many people reference issues of increased rent, more national brand stores, and it becoming more of a destination. Some assert that traffic and parking are big issues.

An employee of the Uptown Theatre said that the recent renovation of the theater has resulted in it loosing its charm, and referenced how you could previously feel the springs in the seats. I wonder what her employer thinks of that comment.

The story does touch on issues that generally are brought up when change occurs. There are concerns about residents and businesses who get pushed out by increased rent, about whether the business make up of the district becomes less attractive or useful to the existing customer base, about whether the infrastructure can handle the potential for increased demand.

Some of those concerns are being addressed.
The City is working on re-timing of the traffic lights, which may not be done until early 2014 at the latest. Public parking was recently expanded at Calhoun Square and at the MoZaic project. New taxi stands were added to help move people out at bar close. A new bike access point from the Midtown Greenway was installed and new bike racks have been added over the last several years. Going back over 10 years ago, Uptown got a formal transit station.

Taxi parking

In 2011, the city added a number of tax stands to Uptown to provide additional ways to move intoxicated people home quicker.

Uptown certainly has a ways to go though.
As I discussed recently, there could be improved services on the streets of the Uptown Business District through a locally managed district management organization, which would allow for more nimble, cost-effective, and potentially more services.

In addition, there should be task forces created to dive into the issues that the resident and business communities have identified. That includes looking at how to improve transportation options in Uptown (ranging from how to increase the number of people using non-cars to get to Uptown, to increasing safety, to better managing street capacity and parking), or looking at how Uptown can keep a diverse business base so that there is economic opportunity or businesses of various ownership models, scales, and business types.

Change is no stranger to Uptown.
What is perhaps more telling is that every few years there is a story about how Uptown is changing. It’s a perennial discussion. In the 1980s, a song called Yuptown Girl came out making fun of Uptown. One of the song writers said that if he could make just one yuppie feel guilty, then the song hasn’t been in vain.

Going way back, the City’s decision to force the railroad to put the existing 29th Street railroad tracks into a trench led to the construction of what is today’s Midtown Greenway corridor. That construction between 1912-1916 forced existing industrial users to either rebuild, adapt, or not use rail. Many would prop their buildings up and dig out the sand and build basements. The result was a heavy industrial corridor featuring multi-story industrial and fuel storage buildings.

Construction of Railroad Trench

The construction of the railroad trench through Uptown required retrofits to existing properties. This photo, from the Minnesota Historical Society, shows the construction of a viaduct on a newly rebuilt section of 29th Street between Dupont Avenue and Colfax Avenue. The building materials company on the south side had to be lowered down to track level and a tunnel was built for them to access the tracks.

The 1910s-1920s saw tremendous growth in Uptown. There was some commercial growth in the mid-1910s but the real change was the substantial apartment boom. Most of the classic brick apartment houses in Uptown date to that period, though some followed through the end of the 1920s.

In 1959, the City of Minneapolis approved a plan to extend Lagoon Avenue east of Hennepin to Dupont. By 1964, it was there. What had previously been residential streets had become surface parking lots for adjacent commercial uses. In the 1960s, a real estate firm considered building a department store at Lake & Holmes but opted instead for Knollwood.

The 1970s saw renewed interest in Uptown and a number of businesses invested in their property, such as Snyders moving from Hennepin-Lake to where Design Within Reach is today. Calhoun School was closed and by the 1980s West High School would close. Calhoun Square was added and new growth around Lake Calhoun would spark controversy. Air quality concerns by the late 1980s would lead to Lake Street and Lagoon Avenue becoming one-way pairs. Several new development projects were slated for Uptown but never materialized, in part due to concern over too much growth.

Current growth is substantial.
I would agree that with over 1,000 units coming online between 2004-2014, that we have seen a substantial change. Many of these units have been built along the Midtown Greenway corridor replacing outdated industrial property that had more value as something else.

The business district has seen a number of projects but most of the biggest change was the replacement of older properties that were replaced with much larger, retail structures home to national brands (Apple, The North Face, Columbia). While certainly the buildings add to our tax base, expanded the density of Uptown, and will likely last many decades, they have been met with some criticism that they directly or indirectly pushed out the Uptown Bar (though they wanted to sell) and a building that housed several small, less flush businesses.

The North Face - March 2008

The North Face in March 2008 after its opening

One of the things that I believe makes Uptown a great place is that most people can point to several things they love about Uptown, but they also can point to several that they hate or are concerned about. Uptown has a lot going for it, whether its proximity to the lakes and the Midtown Greenway, or the many different types of stores and restaurants, or the varied housing options.

But if the diversity starts to get too far out of whack, I am concerned that Uptown will once again see higher turn over in the business community. There are ways we can address these issues, but it will take proactive leadership. More on that another time.

Thatcher Imboden

How cities work and change, how they are the product of their inhabitants and outside forces, and the resulting livability keep me thinking and dreaming about the future. I work in transit oriented development and have a background in urban real estate development. I am Past President of an Uptown business organization, grew up in Uptown, was on an Uptown neighborhood association Board, and am an Uptown and Lyn-Lake historian.

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  1. Matt Lewis says:

    I’m pretty pro-development as a rule. I’m also an Uptown resident for a reason, and the reason isn’t the Apple Store and North Face. I get wanting to preserve the feel of Uptown, but the way to do that isn’t NIMBYism and cutting out development. That’s a good way to stagnate the neighborhood. If rents (residential and commercial) are rising, that means there’s demand. We should allow supply to rise to stabilize rents. Efforts to forcibly maintain the feel of a neighborhood just won’t work. Change happens, embrace it.

    Sure, Uptown’s success brought the Apple Store and Columbia. It also brought Burch, Birdhouse, Nightingale, World Street Kitchen, Heidi’s, Muddy Waters (in its current incarnation), Urban Bean, Gray’s, etc. Uptown isn’t exactly lacking in local, independent businesses.

    (As a side note, I had a laugh at a GM of Uptown Cafeteria, a Parasole restaurant, complaining about the chains. Parasole may not be a national chain, but they’re not some local mom and pop operation. They do a good job! But they’re still a 1,000 pound gorilla compared to what most people think of when they think of Uptown’s quirky businesses.)

  2. Zack says:

    I really fail to see the issue here? For every chain or national brand thats sprung up in this area, its been matched at least two to one by a local business. The businesses are only serving demand, so, if you don’t want them there, vote with your wallet.

    It also seems these same people who take issue with the transformation are also complaining about rent rising. Isn’t that as good a reason as any to move a few blocks down the road out of the heart of Uptown? You don’t like it there anymore anyways, right?

    Its been incredible to watch the development along Lake street over the past 5 years, and its an exciting prospect to see what the future holds!

    • Thatcher Imboden says:

      I generally see Uptown of 2013 as better than Uptown of 2003, with the exception of the loss of the Uptown Bar.

      That said, I think nationals can certainly aide small businesses get customers but if other customers start to feel Uptown doesn’t offer them what they want or isn’t attractive to them, then they also may see a decrease in sales. It’s a complicated issue.

      My biggest concern is that if Uptown continues to grow, which it likely will, that we may not see enough new commercial property come online and rents rise on the marginal commercial space.

      I’m a believer that we need to see new commercial space at secondary locations in Uptown, ie. the moderately less desirable space, so that there are options for businesses of all sizes (sales-wise). It should, for the most part, happen on its own by market forces but city plans and zoning aren’t supportive of growth outside of the major streets.

      For example, I’d support small amounts of low-intensity retail or office on Bryant, 31st, or 28th. Most of those streets already have pockets of commercial properties, mostly at the corners. If someone were to propose a small professional office or dry cleaner pick up on the corner of 31st and Fremont, would there be a good reason why it shouldn’t be there?

      To be fair, we have seen commercial property growth over time and Lagoon Avenue is continuing to intensify.

  3. Grant says:

    I’m concerned about the large number of apartments going up in uptown. Yes, increased density can be good for a community, however we’re going to see a huge influx do traffic. With the SW light rail lined slated to begin work in the next couple of years has any thought been given by the government to direct the line through uptown to help with car traffic?

  4. Angela Isaac says:

    I grew up in Uptown, in Edgewater Court to be exact…which was a beautiful building back then, but over the years was neglected and I hear eventually was torn down to build million dollar condos. I lived there in the 70’s and early 80’s. The neighborhood had charm – Mom and Pop stores at the time, places like Save-Mart, a local bakery, Uptown Drugs, just to name a few. Once Calhoun Square came in, the whole neighborhood went to hell. It used to be a working class neighborhood and now its full of a bunch of yuppie wanna-be hippies. Looking through the modern pictures of the place makes me cry.

    • Anders says:

      If “yuppie wanna-be hippies” means people who like a neighborhood where they can walk to meet all their needs, then you may be on to something. Yesterday I went to work at a locally-owned business, visited family, got some groceries, and went fishing, all within a 10 minute walk of my apartment (in an attractive and well-maintained historic building). No troll sightings, though, so I guess they all moved and now inhabit the comments sections on websites.

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