NIEBNA, Old St. Anthony, CenHen: An Exercise to Name a Nameless Place

Some of the greatest places have some of the greatest names. The Grand Canyon is fairly self-explanatory–it’s a canyon, and it is rather grand. Coney Island, with its imagination-inducing name referring to an isolated floating group of processed meats, juxtaposes the lighthearted, artificially-flavored entertainment district in New York. Then again, some great places have ambiguous names, barely describing the locales geography in a tantalizing and mysterious manner. Before the Internet was your second life, Hidden Beach on Cedar Lake was probably either an urban myth or someplace where your hippie friends have slept.

But what do you do with a place that has an unfortunately placeless name?

"I was eating on a sidewalk patio in a place with no name"

“I was eating on a sidewalk patio in a place with no name”

The Nicollet Island – East Bank Neighborhood Association (NIEBNA, for short) is one of the most progressive citizen organizations in Minneapolis, and is encouraging urbanist idealisms to be mixed with incoming development. Within the NIEBNA boundary resides one of the first commercial districts in the city, traditionally cited as Old Saint Anthony. In the past couple years, the combination of urban market #Millennial trends, more ambitious developments, and the density-favoring NIEBNA group has pushed this activity node into Minneapolis’s “Top 5 Hottest” list. Since 2013, four significant mixed-use towers have been proposed:

1) Alatus-led Tower at Washburn-McReavy site near Central & 2nd Street, planned to be 40 stories

2) Nye’s Tower (also #NyeRise), planned to be 28 stories but currently fighting neighborhood support rescindation

3) Superior Plating Site megadevelopment along 1st Avenue N, with a good bundle of retail and a 2o-story tower

4) Recently announced Mortenson-led US Bank re-development at 333 Hennepin Avenue E., complete with an überfunky tower design, planned to be 28 stories

333 Hennepin. Please name this Portal Tower, or even better, Cake Tower. Source - Minneapolis Planning documents

333 Hennepin. Please name this Portal Tower, or even better, Cake Tower. Source – City of Minneapolis

The bottom line is, this area is booming! Its booming almost as fast as recently graduated frat bros are discovering craft beer taprooms. If even two or three of these towers come to fruition, this node will soon have thousands of new residents that will call it home.

But, again…what is “it”?

A historical conundrum

Originally established as the Town of Saint Anthony, the business district supported the various milling efforts along the Mississippi River. In 1872, Saint Anthony merged with the rival Minneapolis, but in an interesting quirk of history, a small two square mile section in the northwest corner of the original Town of Saint Anthony was not annexed, and remained unincorporated until 1945. This section became what is known today as Saint Anthony (or Saint Anthony Village), and took the proverbial thunder from the historic mill district’s naming lightning.

After post-WWII Americans did their due damage to inner cities, Minneapolis began a revitalization effort along its riverfront in the 1970’s. TIF-created developments like Riverplace and other condo projects turned the downtrodden riverfront into one of the premier urban development spots outside of downtown in the 1980’s. This area was marketed as “St. Anthony Main“, a simple yet chic nod to the original town name and the cobblestone-filled Main Street near the Mississippi River. Although a successful entertainment node, the “St. Anthony Main” branding turned its back to the still gritty district behind it during the Reagan/Boschwitz/Donald Fraser days. This area’s naming conundrum is still seen today – even with the commercial district’s growing vitality, St. Anthony Main’s own website shows the area only encompassing the Main Street strip, and does not include the business district behind it.

Red is St Anthony Main, Blue is nameless.

Red is St Anthony Main, Blue is nameless.

Previous suggestions

Due to the advent of the area’s massive developments, new residents, budding businesses, and its de facto location as the Gateway to cooler-than-you Nordeast, various humans have attempted to classify and name the nameless district. Suggested names and my probably overanalyzed responses are listed below:

St. Anthony Main – See two paragraphs above. In today’s lawsuit-crazed world, I fear that any attempt to brand something in the nameless district that is outside of the illustrated St. Anthony Main boundary will somehow force lawyers to be involved. It also does the nameless district businesses a disservice if they are going for something that caters less towards the St. Anthony Main demographic (potentially Minneapolitans-gone-Eaganians who are looking for a nostalgia-instigating Saturday away from the kids). Verdict: Too risky.

Old St. Anthony – Not terrible, as it is geographically AND historically accurate (hard to come by these days). But, the development surge mixed with the likely young-leaning age group it will bring is anything but “old”. It might also cause confusion with the City of Saint Anthony when someone tells you to go to Pizza Nea on Hennepin Avenue and you end up driving to Broadway Pizza off of New Brighton Boulevard instead. “New St. Anthony” might be better, but it sounds kind of like a teen romance movie.  Verdict: Too old. Too historically accurate.

NIEBNA – Some have suggested to call this area by its primary neighborhood acronym, because its just fun to say (I mean, seriously, say it out loud and try to not grin). The main problem with this is NIEBNA neither fully encompasses the St Anthony Main district nor the nameless district. Similar to the four neighborhood groups that encase parts Uptown, the nameless district has sections also located in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. Calling the Nameless District NIEBNA would also do a disservice to Nicollet Island and its associated residential area. It’d sorta be like suddenly calling Uptown “LHENA”, which would then set off a massive, Anchorman-esque turf war at the corner of Lake & Hennepin with ECCO and CARAG and East Isles. Verdict: Fun, but too war-prone.

Downtown Northeast – Again, not terrible. Its soon-to-be-high-rise-filled confines give it a downtown feel, and most of it is technically in the “NE” street grid. Still, it would be confusing to map-averse individuals trying to find Target Field, but instead arrive at Conga Latin Bistro. (For hypothetical purposes, this person is both map-averse and baseball-ignorant.) Advertising the area as Northeast would also do a disservice to the real, edgier, bohemian-spun Northeast attractions nearby. Verdict: Not enough towers to be downtown, not enough beards to be Northeast.

Nameless – Hmmmm. Verdict: HMMMM.

Hennepin Avenue NE, circa 1935. Source -

Hennepin Avenue NE, circa 1935. Source –

My suggestion

This district is entertaining, walkable, dense, transit-accessible, sumptuous but edgy, up-and-coming, and just generally exciting. It is also being assisted by the visionary folks at NIEBNA to become the go-to dense district of Minneapolis by next decade. Its truly historic, yet booming with energy. It is a stone’s throw to downtown, real Northeast, and the University of Minnesota area. The district’s name needs to pay homage to the history, the non-conforming street grid, and the bright future ahead of itself.

Per the reasons above, the nameless district should be branded as “CenHen“.

Other well-known hotspot entertainment districts, like NoHo in New York City (NOrth of HOuston Street), SoCo in Austin (SOuth COngress) and even LynLake in Minneapolis have clever, easily configured names that refer to associated core streets. CenHen, referring to the triangulated corner of Central Avenue and Hennepin Avenue, instantly provides residents and visitors a clear, descriptive idea of the district’s geographic location within Minneapolis.

Before the inevitable boom occurs, developers of these upcoming big-time projects should start advertising this name and pull the district out of its nameless category. Minneapolis officials should hop on board to sell CenHen as the next great urban neighborhood in Minneapolis, and build off the previous branding success seen with St. Anthony Main. CenHen, if marketed correctly, will illustrate a notion of green, urban, mixed-income living inside “North Loop 2.0”. Geographically, it will become a powerful and indicative crossroads of activity. One could take either Central or Hennepin to jump to downtown or to stroll to Northeast, but could also stay put in CenHen to enjoy the vast local amenities it has to offer.

CENtral and HENnepin = CenHen. Voila.

CENtral and HENnepin = CenHen. Voila.

As development moves to the northern side of CenHen, the currently underwhelming but severely angled intersection could potentially spawn the Flatiron Building of Minneapolis. As per the boundary above, the intersection is more or less in the center of the district, and will relish that advantage.

Uptown, Dinkytown, and Downtown instantly provide information on their geographic location to anyone in the MSP region. St. Anthony Main has had mild success in the same light, but leaves out the many businesses and residents to its north. In order to see the area’s fullest potential, I would love to see developers and Minneapolis visionaries brand the district “CenHen” as it turns into the city’s go-to community by 2020.

(If “CenHen” falls through, I guess “Nameless” is pretty cool, too.)

Chris Iverson

About Chris Iverson

Chris Iverson is a transportation engineer & planner for the City of Bellevue, WA and currently lives in Seattle. He holds degrees in both Civil Engineering & Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota, and worked on a myriad of transit & multimodal transportation projects in the Twin Cities. He is a former Minnesota Daily columnist, RAGBRAI participant, bad musician, marathon finisher, and an unabashed generalist.