Free Idea: Let’s Close Portland Avenue for a Few Weeks and See How It Plays Out

(Editor’s Note: There’s another post today about the Downtown East Commons park that covers many of these same points and describes the process a little more thoroughly, and so you could probably consider this post to be a wacky spin on the first. We’re going to publish both at the same time.)

Portland Emojis

Earlier this week, there was a public forum at Mill City Museum to discuss plans for the new Downtown East Commons park that’s planned for the ~1.7 blocks of land near the new Vikings stadium, across 4th Street South from the two-block Wells Fargo project currently under construction. There’s a lot going on in that part of town right now, which is awesome, and the park is a great opportunity to really add a whole new regional amenity to a tremendous amount of public and private investment already flowing into the area.

(They are soliciting lots of ideas online at the not-at-all-cumbersomely-named:, and you should definitely go and fill out that survey: Vote Fire Pits ’15!!!)

One of the things that came up at many of the tables (8 of 12) was that, hey, what if we closed Portland Avenue?

Back in 2013 when the plans for the two major Downtown East redevelopment projects (the Wells Fargo office towers + park on land formerly owned by the StarTribune, and then the new Vikings stadium) were announced, it was immediately apparent that the renderings were wrong and that Hennepin County wasn’t going to let them close Portland Avenue. This did not stop the StarTribune and many other media outlets, some even without a direct financial stake in the approval of the plan, from repeatedly running the old renderings that showed a larger and more cohesive park. Here is one from the day of the meeting. Do renderings matter? Probably!

Site sketch (Source: City of Minneapolis)

Site sketch (Source: City of Minneapolis)

While Hennepin County is not planning to close Portland, the idea of cutting it down to two lanes is being bandied about. It’s a little odd trying to wrap my head around a road cutting through the middle of the site–my first thought was that they shouldn’t even bother with the .7 block chunk between 5th Avenue South and Portland. Right now they’ve slapped a five story apartment building on the western edge of the site, presumably to block views of the county jail from the park and stadium plaza. There are overall aspects of the park that feel like afterthoughts–though, of course, the specifics are yet to be filled out (see above).

Click to Enlarge (Source: Hennepin County)

Click to Enlarge (Source: Hennepin County)

I don’t mean for that all to sound negative, because I’m very excited about the park–Vote Fire Pits ’15!!!–and its potential to be a real place. But it just seems odd…who’s taking Portland, a southbound one-way, from Washington Avenue to points south and absolutely needs that automobile link? Portland Avenue continues past this park, uninterrupted, for 11.6 miles before ending in this nice neighborhood in East Bloomington by the Minnesota River, but it starts just a few blocks north of the park at the Mississippi River.

Maybe if there was some kind of brain-freeze-related mass medical emergency at the Izzy’s Ice Cream factory in the Mill District, and we absolutely needed to get a bunch of ambulances ten blocks away to Hennepin County Medical Center as soon as possible. In any case, I’m pretty sure cars are still the most dangerous thing in America other than cigarettes and most of the food, so we’d still be coming out ahead, safety-wise.

So here is a crazy idea:

What if we just closed that block of Portland Avenue for, say, three weeks, and we let it play out?

If: There are casualties and the sun goes dark and Target, US Bank, and Hennepin County announce their plans to move their offices to Minnetonka, then, shoot, didn’t work out, and we can reopen the street. But, if everything pretty much is fine, then maybe we can just do that? And save the $???,??? and ?? months that we will spend trying to figure out whether or not we should close the street.

I bet it will be fine.

There are, as some people have pointed out, four streets traversing Central Park in New York City. This is a terrible comparison. Central Park is 843 acres. Downtown East Commons will be 4.3 acres. Not the same thing. But while we’re talking about New York City, keep in mind that they have closed streets in the past decade in a city larger, busier, and more congested than Minneapolis by several orders of magnitude. Traffic always finds a way.

I mean, symbolically, wouldn’t it be nice to close a street named Portland?

Nick Magrino

About Nick Magrino

Nick Magrino grew up all over the place but has lived in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis longer than anywhere else. He has a new cat, Sweater, and does not use hashtags at @nickmagrino. He is probably on a bus right now.