An Urban Future for the Midtown Farmers Market

A potentially spectacular and game-changing transit-oriented development may be revived in Minneapolis. And man do I mean “may be.” Hennepin County may get involved with the development of 6.5 acres of property adjacent the Lake Street Station of the Blue Line. The county  maybe relocating offices and services to the site, which is owned by the Minneapolis Public Schools, and may be helping set the process in motion to allow development of more than 500 housing units and a permanent home for the Midtown Farmers Market. Maybe. If the school board is actually willing to move forward.

I’ve been involved on a pro bono professional basis on this project, as I originally reported at Joe Urban and updated last year.  I was brought in to be part of the BKV design team starting in 2009 to help guide project design and ensure uses would be realistic in the marketplace, and help provide a critical eye on urban design. You can learn more about the project history here. It boils down to this: the Minneapolis Public Schools owned the building and site since 1998. In 2008 they indicated they were planning to sell the site, which spurred BKV and the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization to work together on a design for redevelopment of the site, with a lot of heavy lifting still required to make this thing happen.

The BKV team morphed in to L& H Development and the resulting development plan, including around 600 housing units, office and retail and a market square, was met with wide acceptance in the neighborhood, city and Met Council. The school board issued a formal RFP for the site but ultimately backed out of the deal officially earlier this year after a lot of back room negotiating. It has been a long strange road, but the school board may again be willing to sell the site. Opportunity knocks as Hennepin County’s lease at Century Plaza in downtown Minneapolis ends in 2014, creating the potential that their Human Services Hub could move to the Lake Street site. Reportedly a major non-profit wants to move its headquarters to the project as well. Exactly what sway the county has to get this deal done remains to be seen, but they are a big entity and potentially a valuable partner.

More important and less clear is what the Minneapolis Public Schools really can be persuaded to do. In 2008 their existing building on the site was vacant but is now home to successful adult education programming, and the school district’s options include staying put, being part of a redevelopment or relocating. The Star Tribune reported last week that the county and school board are discussing options for the site, so who really knows except to say that a pretty interesting development could be back on the table. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

The key public piece of all of this is the Midtown Farmers Market, which has been run by the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization for more than a decade, rent free, in a parking lot on the site. The market is a huge community asset and city-adopted plans have shown a long term home for the market on the site since 2002.  The widely accepted L & H plan showed the same. The city is still on board. David Frank, director of TOD for the City of Minneapolis, says, “We continue to encourage school district to make property available for development. We hope that means relocating the use. We’d like to see a range of uses there, including a fair amount of density towards Lake Street, a permanent home for the farmers market, and other active uses including plazas and spaces for the public.” As Eric Gustafson, executive director of the Corcoran Neighborhood Association puts it, “Second rate cities put their farmers markets under the freeway. But great cities have always been built around public markets and public gathering places.” Amen.

Maybe something great will happen and this site will become a nationally-renowned TOD. Maybe this is all just speculation. It is very important at this time not to let all this planning and public buy-in go to waste. Remind city and county elected officials and the school board how important not only good development is on this site, but that the core focus should be the Midtown Farmers Market, not in an asphalt parking lot but an urbane, urban public space. Then push hard so CPED, the Planning Commission and designers get all those urban details right.

If you want to get involved, use #PreservetheMarket to post comments about why you love the Midtown Farmers Market. A presentation by Eric Gustafson made at a public meeting last week can be found here. Please remind the city, county and school board to play nice and help ensure a great urban result. Minneapolis can do so much better, and maybe, just maybe we can make this a beloved place.

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

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2 Responses to An Urban Future for the Midtown Farmers Market

  1. Morgan September 13, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    Thank you for keeping us in the loop Sam,

    I guess I don’t understand why the Farmer’s Market has to stay at that site. In my view, the Farmer’s Market is a community owned amenity that can be moved (not often, but every few years) to activate spaces that need it and therefore enhance the community’s environment. Once a dense, high quality development is located at the school district site, then I would think that the farmer’s market could move to another underutilized lot in the neighborhood. Or permanently close a side street, at least on market days.

    I understand the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization wants to keep the market within its’ boundaries but there are multiple vacant lots on the south side of Lake Street in Corcoran. Why not move the market there and keep the ball rolling?

    I believe that one of the draws for having the market at the school board site in the first place is the parking on the south side of the lot for customers. Will that much parking for non-residents and tenants continue to exist at the new development?

  2. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg September 16, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Morgan, there are plenty of places where the market could move if forced to. Whether parking would be a problem somewhere else would have to be addressed.

    I simply think the benefits created by a well-designed public square at a transit station along a busy commercial corridor surrounded by excellent urbanism (great looking buildings and streets) so far outweighs issues of convenient parking that it’s hard to compare the two. Besides, CNO/the farmers market operators has considered this, and parking is shown in the approved plan for the site.

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