The Yard at Downtown East

In a veritable bacchanalia of developments, we have seen three major inter-related activities in Minneapolis’s Downtown East:

Washington Avenue has been covered extensively on Streets.MN already, so I won’t go further into that now. The others are the Star Tribune site and the Stadium.

The Yard

TheYard

The Ryan proposal for redeveloping the Star Tribune site is the best of the bunch, and their renderings are also much nicer. The “Yard”, as the park on the site has been dubbed, does a few good things.

  • It takes developable land off the market. This makes the remaining land more valuable.
  • It provides an amenity for the remaining parcels. One of the beautiful things about parks from a city planning perspective is that no one demands a Benefit/Cost analysis on parks, since the benefits are thought to intangible. In fact they are capitalized in land values.
  • It replaces surface parking lots.
  • It creates a mall or Central Park for the neighborhood, mall-like in that it one end is dominated by a large structure. In this case it is a Vikings Stadium rather than the US Capitol Building. The idea is the same, we pay taxes to the occupants of the respective buildings.
  • It creates redevelopment opportunities for the Armory building (farmer’s market, rec center, museum, etc.)
  • It creates valuable redevelopment opportunities for the Morgue, the Juvenile Detention Center, and the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility (and the Stadium in 20 years). These should enrich public coffers.
  • It puts “tailgating” to rest, unless they allow tailgating inside parking ramps. Football fans will have to picnic instead.

It also does some problematic things

  • It closes Park Avenue.
  • It closes Portland Avenue.
  • It builds a new parking ramp at Park and 5th. To be fair, this is because of the Stadium. And the location, adjacent to the stadium, HCMC, and the JDC is hardly a pedestrian paradise now or in the future anyway. Hopefully they can do something with the ground floor to keep it active, as it is adjacent to an LRT. It is also well placed given it has almost immediate on and off-ramp access to I-94 to the East. I think it would be better to put the parking ramp under “The Yard”, but I realize subterranean construction is costly.
  • It makes the LRT station look like a scar on the landscape. If they eventually split the Blue and Green lines (not yet in anyone’s plans, but necessary if there is demand to increase service frequencies on either line), or put them below grade, this scar will go away. That is many years away.

I think it nets out as a good thing given the existence of a large stadium at one end. Closing Park and Portland are far more feasible than closing 4th St or 5th St. It reduces some vehicular access to the Mill District from the South (and Eliot Park from the North), and goes against the aim for better connectivity. On the other hand, reduced connectivity will reduce total vehicular travel (which is a good thing from an environmental perspective, and a bad thing from an economic activity perspective). Some have suggested that they just be closed part time, e.g. during events, and be shared space the remainder of the time. Others have suggested they stay closed, just like in Central Park. Nevertheless, the effects here will be relatively small.

The issue of “Wells Fargo” as a tenant is interesting. Presumably this is just a consolidation for them, as they already have facilities in town, so would just create vacancies elsewhere. Good for downtown, bad for the owners of the older space elsewhere. A win for the city would steal business from another city (which is still just a transfer). A win for society would be the growth of new business. Also there is a certain irony in that this would be the mortgage division, which got into trouble in the last building boom by over-financing new construction.

Forum discussion.

The Stadium

VikingsStadiu

Well aside from not liking the idea of the Stadium, and its location in downtown being a strategic error on the part of the city and state’s political leadership, it could be worse. I am not as pessimistic on it as Nate. This is an improvement over the Metrodome from an aesthetic perspective. The glass facing West and South will be iconic, though a bit starchitecture-like. That it turns its back to the North and East makes sense given the land uses in place there (a freeway entrance ramp and LRT tracks). Yes it forecloses the opportunity to do something better there, but that wouldn’t be happening anyway, this is Minneapolis not Manhattan and there is just not the demand now (or for the next 20 years) to do something with good urban design in these forgotten marginal spaces, there are still too many better sites. Yes I would like more glass and less wall, but I am sure that costs money. Like the Saints Stadium in St. Paul, it is wedged into a corner backing onto the transportation network and fronting the city, that they don’t do anything with the back is no great loss.

Forum discussion.


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7 Responses to The Yard at Downtown East

  1. Nick Magrino
    Nick Magrino May 15, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    “In this case it is a Vikings Stadium rather than the US Capitol Building. The idea is the same, we pay taxes to the occupants of the respective buildings.”

    That took me a second, then I laughed out loud.

  2. Janne May 15, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Does anyone know what the data says about the value of more, smaller scattered parks vs. fewer, larger parks?

  3. Alex Cecchini
    Alex Cecchini May 15, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    What about a single lane on Park and Portland dug under the LRT and the proposed park, with access to existing sub-LRT parking and newly-built single level parking under the 2 blocks of the park? This trench would have to start just after P/P cross 6th St to make it under the LRT tracks and would pop up again at 3rd St, but they keep N-S connectivity, provide 2 access points to underground parking without needing awkward approaches on 3rd/4th Streets (that would make the park less pedestrian-accessible at all points), and free up the land currently slated for the 2 garages to be used for other (better) uses.

    Some drawbacks:
    - Cost. Obviously. But how much more costly is parking construction 1 level underground vs a deck? Is the difference more or less than the tax value of the land the decks would sit on?
    - P/P connections to the grid become weird with a single lane in the middle going down and coming back up.
    - The park itself becomes more limited in use. It would likely feel more like a plaza with green spaces than a natural grassy/tree-filled environment. Putting in a true water feature would also be difficult.

    Thoughts?

  4. Clayton May 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    I don’t see any sort of a pond or water feature in the park. A big plus for this park would be to design it to filter runoff from the surrounding area. There is a lot of room to improve upon the environmental friendliness of that unfriendly stadium.
    Just replacing parking lots with grass is a start but we can do a lot better with infiltration areas like they used along the Central Corridor.

  5. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg May 15, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    We should absolutely aim higher with our downtown park. Discovery Green in Houston is a wonderful place of approximately the same size, give or take, and has about twenty distinct spaces fit for a downtown park. There are lawns of various sizes, a performance space, playground, lake, gardens, groves, restaurants, and yes all above a large underground parking garage that serves the park, the nearby convention center and other.

    Have a look – http://www.discoverygreen.com/discovery-green-park-map

    Yes, this involved large corporate sponsors, but we have large corporations here, too, who could be tapped to provide a world class destination.

  6. Eric Anderson May 16, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    That Houston park is awesome

  7. Jeremy Bergerson May 18, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    What about the fact that cyclists lost a reliable, efficient north-south corridor through Downtown when 2nd and Marquette became bus lanes? Cyclists are now allowed on those streets except during rush hours – a serious blow for commuters. The Park and Portland buffered bike lanes have now effectively replaced those corridors, though they are inconvenient for those in the Uptown area.

    Point is, we’ve already lost a good north-south corridor in 2nd and Marquette, and it would be terrible if we lost Park and Portland.

    This is also bad for Downtown East because it involves razing the historically significant Star Tribune building, a nice 1947, moderne structure.