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.
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.
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.
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.