Support TOD at Lake and Hiawatha

Can Minneapolis finally pull off a high-quality transit-oriented development (TOD) project? Yes, with a little luck, a lot of disparate interests coming to a common agreement, and likely some creative financing. Development plans at the Midtown Farmers Market site in Minneapolis appear to be revived. Included in the multi-phase plan are housing, offices, retail, and perhaps most importantly, a public square that will serve as home for the Midtown Farmers Market. However, the plan is more complicated than ever, so getting this built won’t be easy. This Thursday, April 3 at 6PM the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization will host a meeting so the public can find out more about the plan. It is important to show your support for good urban design and transit oriented development. Check out the plan below.


The Corcoran Neighborhood Organization (CNO) has planned for redevelopment of the site and a permanent home for the Midtown Farmers Market for more than a decade, and the present version of the plan you see above was fleshed out in 2009, when BKV Group led a series of planning charrettes. The BKV design team worked with CNO to agree on a general design concept that includes around 500 units of housing, some combination of office and retail space, and a public square that would host the Midtown Farmers Market. I participated in the 2009-10 charrettes as a member of the BKV team on a volunteer basis, which gave me a firsthand look at the process, which has come in fits and starts. Those visions, hopes, and disappointments were chronicled in several posts in 20102012 and 2013.

Details are still forthcoming, but the plan now includes a Hennepin County Family Services Center in an office building that includes ground floor retail space. The Minneapolis Public Schools, which owns the 6.4 acre site presently, has been the primary source of delay for the project as priorities for their use of the site have changed, but they appear to be on board for the time being. Still a vital part of the plan are both a large housing component and the public square.

In spite of all the public agencies with different agendas, as with any development, parking may prove to be the most contentious part of this project. Why? Because every entity believes they need some, demand is sometimes overestimated, it is extremely expensive to build, and even on-street parking isn’t really free. Not only will Hennepin County, Minneapolis Public Schools, the Farmers Market, retail, office and housing each have on-site requirements, there will be off-site concerns as well. Nearby residents may well be concerned about parking demand spillover on to their blocks, and the YWCA (located immediately west of the site) at times has excess parking demand beyond what their on-site parking can accommodate. Previous iterations of this plan have included not only a structured parking lot instead of the YWCA’s current surface parking lot, but also row of townhomes lining the parking structure to drastically improve the urbanism of the area. The best solution may be to construct a parking structure on the YWCA lot to be shared by their users and the services and office uses on the farmers market site. The bottom line is if we make it easy to drive here, people will, and I don’t think that is really in the best interest of any stakeholder. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail, the YWCA remains a constructive partner in this planning process, and we don’t let parking diminish the potential of this project!

I just heard a presentation by a transit-oriented development expert who noted that the roughly 5% of households that don’t own a car make up 25% of all transit rides. Therefore, she says, the best strategy is to build affordable housing near transit that has no parking. That will attract those households, save a lot of money on the cost of constructing underground parking, and ensure that ridership stays high. Chew on that one as we think about parking on this site.

My one primary point of contention with regard to the proposed design is the location of the public square. In the words of Charleston mayor Joe Riley, great cities give their best edges over to the public realm. With that said, the public square and Midtown Farmers Market should be located directly on Lake Street. Why? Because the square is intended as a public gathering space and should have a strong relationship to the major nearby street. The current location makes it seem like CNO wants keep the square more private, have the Farmers Market to themselves, and I believe this is not in the best interests of the neighborhood or city in the long run. As well, too much attention is given to linking the square to light rail, but not enough to the busy bus corridor on Lake. Lastly, exposing more of the public square to Lake provides more pedestrian traffic for each and reduces the amount of retail frontage facing Lake Street that needs to leased. Put the public square on Lake Street.

Additional design considerations pretty much boil down to building frontages and how well the ground floor relates to the streets. As with most planning projects, most of the focus is on the map view (see above) and which uses lie where on the site, but very little attention to how buildings relate to the streets. A high GDA is critical. Be it retail or housing, every building face must be engaging and that includes not just windows but doors. Reduce curb cuts and combine parking entrances when possible. I hope lingering security fears in the area don’t diminish this – more doors actually improves security, and if they aren’t part of the original plan it is very hard to add them later. The present plan shows hints that some of the buildings may have decent frontage, but the west-facing façade of the commercial building in particular could be very car-dominated and lifeless, which would be a shame considering it faces the YWCA across the street.

It is important that we all support good urban design and transit-oriented development on this important site. Minneapolis has yet to prove they can complete a complicated, multiple-use transit-oriented development, and despite the numerous stakeholders in this proposal, it can be done! Don’t let security and parking “drive” this decision-making. Contact city, county and school board representatives and demand an attractive, pedestrian-friendly development that gives its best edges to the public realm and benefits us all. Or just show up on April 3.

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is

11 thoughts on “Support TOD at Lake and Hiawatha

  1. Alex

    Agreed about the open space location. It seems like it could just as easily be shifted 90 degrees to the left. Maybe the 5k sq ft retail space could be shifted behind the open space, but if not, it’s hard to imagine that space will make or break this development.

  2. Andy

    Good point on the location of the square. Another benefit of keeping it on Lake (especially if it’s not as elevated and removed from the road and bus stop like it currently is) is hopeful future changes to Lake that make it a more bike/ped friendly road could be more fluidly tied into that space. Imagine a protected bike lane* rolling along side that square some day.

    I also noted your comment about CNO keeping it closer in. Is that true? Why would they do that? That’d be shortsighted since the Market is heavily supported by so many other neighborhood residents from Longfellow, Nokomis, etc.

    *i know that protected bike lanes are not in the plans for Lake but I can hope for it right?!
    But cities should always build for this in mind, even if it’s not in the cards today.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      I think it would be unfair to characterize the location of the square as CNO consciously keeping it for themselves. I think the location of the streets, both the extension of 23rd, and the creation of “30 1/2 Street,” as well as the overall geometry of the site, influenced the location of the square. Having the square directly accessible from the LRT station entrance, which is slightly off Lake, also was important, and overall, the grade change presents a challenge.

      I just get the sense that frontage facing Lake Street fell behind other priorities in the planning process for this site. Part of the reason for that is a social divide that exists in the neighborhood. I understand this but don’t like it, and I think it should be priority number one that the development and square embrace Lake more than it does.

  3. Cadillac Kolstad

    What, If any is the public financing proposed for the site? Is there any TIF, Bonding, Grants etc. on the table?
    It appears the plan does not incorporate the existing former Brown institute, a giant building already there. Is this planned to be demolished? I have been inside this location and it would easily lend itself to adaptive reuse as housing, office, retail, mixed use, etc.
    I certainly hope that any plans include an analysis of reuse. There is ample space to add more structures while incorporating this building.
    The environmental impact of wrecking such a building will be significant. It is not historic, but is is potentially useful. Remember when a building comes down that refuse goes somewhere. Usually not in our backyards…
    It is also sad that to build the “Y” and their huge parking lot, the city permitted demolition of a block of mixed use buildings and a number of multi family homes.
    We also need jobs and destinations other than housing near transit. What if we focused on more housing near jobs so people could walk to work? When TOD is discussed ridership often comes up but where the jobs are is rarely addressed.


    1. Cadillac Kolstad

      I found out more information.
      The plan is to demolish the large building. Why are we planning to demolish a building that is currently an employment center and serving over 1,000 individuals daily? How is this a good use of public investment or an example of sound land use or urban planning?

  4. Brad

    Is this really a dense cite? Has anyone compared this to TOD in major cities? It seems here in mn the neighborhoods lead the process with this mn version of density flying blind which is no where near the scale of international cities and with no concept at build out whether the line made any difference at all for all the billions in the grand scheme of housing and sustainability other than making planners, politicians. and urban elite feel accomplished. I’m an optimist I just think the scale all across the board is off. I understand very well that rent PSF in mn does not justify taller, but maybe that begs the question of what is all of this for?

  5. Cadillac Kolstad

    According to the City Of Minneapolis the Brown institute building is used by 20 organizations including the Public schools. Demolition and redevelopment is solving a non problem. All organizations present make sense on a transit corridor. How is demolition a good use of public investment or an example of sound land use or urban planning?
    At a little over 50,000 sq feet demolishing this building will release the equivalent emission of burning 640,000+ gallons of gasoline. If that building is torn down, all that embodied energy is wasted. What’s more, the demolition process uses more energy. And the debris would create 4,000+ tons of waste, enough to fill 26+ railroad boxcars.

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  7. Nathanael

    Agreed with Cadillac — you don’t do “TOD” by demolishing a thriving building used by 20 organizations!

  8. Cadillac Kolstad

    Hey Thanks Nathanael.
    I have some more info. I went to the meeting at the building about redevelopment.
    The School staff could not give me information on any other tenants but I did confirm that the building is 100% used, providing service for 1,000+ people a day and employment for over 70 people.
    The county intended to incorporate the Brown building into the new project but the neighborhood group pressured them to demolish it. It sounds like the neighbors want to force adult education off of the parcel. I remember as a student at South High a few years ago it seemed the neighborhood would have loved to relocate SHS as well.
    There was much lip service about “sustainability” from the Neighborhood but they seem satisfied with tokens like green roofs bike racks, and solar. I was disturbed that while talking the talk the Neighborhood also was pushing for very restricted height, as well as demolition of the existing well used building. Much of the housing is only planned to be 3 stories, the density on the parcel could be significantly increased by adding a few stories. We should push for something at least approaching the 6 stories being built a short distance away on West Bank. (over neighborhood objection to demolition of 2 blocks of buildings to accommodate it.) I would even say with the traffic at that intersection a very tall highrise might be practical and desirable land use.
    Over all I was not impressed with the plan, it basically builds around the Brown building and then wrecks it to create a plaza for farmers market. Most people seemed to want the farmers market closer to Lake, an equally sized market space, with greater visibility on lake could be achieved while leaving brown building and the existing houses in place.

    It is interesting that farmers markets, one of they key elements leading to the formation of cities, are still a solid anchor for building urban vibrancy, and a reminder that the city and countryside are more closely connected and dependant on one another than people often realize.

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