September 19th: Urbanist News

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There is a lot going on around the Twin Cities. Here’s the round-up:

  • NYC Firm selected to redesign Nicollet Mall [MPR]

Summary: The City of Minneapolis has chosen the firm they’d like to redesign the Nicollet Mall’s streetscape. The presentations included lot of people walking, trees and permeable surfaces that are likely sustainable. If you don’t like reading, here’s a news clip about it.

My Take: I have questioned whether this is a good use of resources and if those resources could better be allocated elsewhere. That’s not going to happen. As it stands, the proposal from the selected firm looks impressive. The design will certainly be an improvement over what exists. One recommendation is for the City and the designers to take ideas out of the Joe Urban/PPS Playbook. Read his suggestions here.

Projected Outcome: Could be good.
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  • St. Paul Macy’s might be a makeover as ownership changes [Star Tribune]

Summary: Firm from San Francisco is buying the downtown St. Paul Macy’s store. Their plans for the building are not known.

My Take: Macy’s is a problematic structure. It doesn’t integrate well with the urban environment and lacks windows and entrances. What is the future? The Mayor wants an office tower with some retail, food and bar options on the lower levels. This sounds reasonable, but I am hesitant to say there is a need for more ‘Class A’ office space in downtown St. Paul. At the same time, I agree that a “Burlington Coat Factory” type use isn’t great. Unfortunately, without tearing the structure down, it might be the most reasonable re-purposed use. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

Projected Outcome: Has lots of potential to be good.
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  • Edina uses eminent domain to expand parking at the expense of a traditional neighborhood building [Star Tribune]

Summary: Edina is looking to use eminent domain (a very unpopular urban redevelopment tool) to expand parking in the 50th & France business district.

My Take: This is bad on just about every level. It is adding more parking where parking is clearly not needed. Edina needs to explore paid parking in and around 50th & France. Using eminent domain to tear down a single-story, traditional neighborhood building to expand parking is a good way to destroy what made the district successful in the first place (read: Pensacola Parking Syndrome).

The Pensacola Parking Syndrome is a term of the trade used to describe a city that tears down its old buildings to create parking spaces to entice more people downtown, until people no longer want to go there because it has become an empty lot. – New York Times

The use of eminent domain in this particular case is questionably legal and will likely set the City up for a lawsuit. In 2006, the laws changed that prohibited the taking of property for a public purpose, such as economic development. Read about it here. The question for Edina: Is the taking of property for parking a public use or public purpose? The City will argue it’s a public use. I don’t buy it. In their minds, it’s an “economic development” strategy to appease businesses who appear to think that there isn’t enough parking?

Projected Outcome: Very bad.

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Other News:

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11 Responses to September 19th: Urbanist News

  1. Jim September 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    Re: Macy’s,

    Ecolab’s CEO was in charge of the city’s team that looked into future uses for the site. I think a mixed use project with them anchoring isn’t that far out of the realm of possibilities. The only thing that would give me a bit of pause is that they are fairly conservative. It’s a little hard to picture them spending the kind of money to anchor a glitzy new office building. But you never know, the company seems to be on a roll at the moment.

    • Nathaniel M Hood
      Nathaniel M Hood September 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

      Thanks for the update Jim.

      It’d be great to see some creative re-use. I would be okay with a tear down / redevelopment as a mixed use building with good frontages too. The last thing I want to see though is a demolition that turns into a parking lot for the foreseeable future.

  2. Adam Miller
    Adam September 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    As for the Mall, I’m mildly concerned about the design team structuring things around living, working and playing on different parts of the Mall. Ideally, there would be all three things across the whole project, and we shouldn’t be thinking about segregating them.

    Only mildly, though, as the middle bit with the working really doesn’t have much for living and isn’t going to get any soon.

    Otherwise, there is some nice looking stuff there.

    • Nathaniel M Hood
      Nathaniel September 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

      Yeah, that’s a good point. It’ll be interesting to see how that develops. My guess would be that they are attempting to plug in what already exists. For example; residential emphasis on south end, office in middle and entertainment on the far north end.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam September 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

        For some strange reason, they actually have it flipped the other way, with play on the south end and live on the north. Maybe because of (empty) Orchestra Hall and the restaurants on the south end?

        Sure feels like more people live on the south end though, even with 222 Hennepin, The Nic and the Soo Line adding housing near the north end.

        Or maybe they just didn’t know what to label the north end as.

        • Nathaniel M Hood
          Nathaniel September 20, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

          Interesting. I would not have guessed that. My other question is if Nicollet (or similar connection) is going to extend to the Mississippi River? Does that go beyond the scope of the redesign?

  3. Jim September 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    Agreed. We don’t need another parking lot like the one across the street with the empty skyway.

    Interestingly, that lot is now owned by Tom Auth (big entrepeneur) of Vomela, a large graphics company (1,000 employees, $200 million in revenue) which is HQ on the west side of St. Paul near the airport. Not sure if they’ll ever be the ones to develop that lot though. It underwent a major resurfacing a year ago. It looks to be just an investment property. But sure would be sweet to see them occupy even a small office building there. Something akin to the new medical office building near the Guthrie but with some street level retail.

    • Nathaniel M Hood
      Nathaniel September 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      Fingers crossed something happens there. It’s prime real estate, and I’m surprised it’s been a parking lot as long as it has been.

  4. helsinki September 20, 2013 at 4:38 am #

    Concerning the Nicollet Mall redesign, regardless of the necessity of the project itself, I was heartened to see the winner James Corner Field Operations cite the wonderfully analagous Aleksanterinkatu in Helsinki, Finland, as a ‘precedent’.

    Minneapolis sees the need to re-invent the wheel every generation. Hopefully the winning firm’s acknowledgment of a climatically and culturally similar city’s main street will tether the design to reality. And by reality I mean weather that punishes the built environment, fickle social norms, and an understanding that what looks good on paper and inflates architectural egos is generally not what translates into the most human street experience.

  5. Joe September 23, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

    Downtown Saint Paul actually does have a high demand for Class A space, just a lot of Class B and C that could be updated mroe easily than a completely new office building.

  6. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell September 24, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Interestingly, the very similar completely lacking in personality Macy’s store in Houston was imploded yesterday.

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