Bloomington’s 2040 Plan, titled “Forward 2040” was officially adopted by the city on Aug 5, 2019. Unlike in Minneapolis, it passed with little notice and little controversy. Here are a few points that caught my attention.
Housing and Diversity
Although the need for more high density housing is acknowledged like in the Minneapolis plan, here it will be limited to a few specific neighborhoods and corridors. For the most part, single family homeowners will not be face the possibility of having apartment towers on all sides of their property. And the majority of the residential area is made up of such homeowners (30.8 % of the city’s total land area, but 80% of the residential area).
The city is generally growing older and more diverse. In 1970 the median age was 23, household size was 3.7 and the population was 99% white, today those figures are 42, 2.3 and 76%, respectively. I went to Bloomington schools through 5th grade in the 1980s and anecdotally there might’ve been one or two minorities in the classroom; Today school enrollment is 50% non-white. Open enrollment doesn’t have as big of an effect on Bloomington as elsewhere, producing net 2% increase in white students and 1% increase in total enrollment. School demographics may be an indication of the future population if today’s students stay in the community.
With a substantial number of aging people, housing and resources for them are an issue. Recognizing there’s nothing wrong with aging couples or singles staying in their single family detached house if that’s what they want (about half the houses in my neighborhood are occupied by one or two middle age or older people), others need the additional services or want the social aspects and reduced maintenance of senior housing. Where to put new senior housing has been a controversial issue over the years.
Neighborhood Commercial Centers
There has been an ongoing issue with neighborhood commercial centers decaying. In the 1990s France and Old Shakopee Road had not one, but three abandoned gas stations on the corners (and an active gas station on the fourth). The result of a city led development effort was ambivalent. We got nice fresh buildings, new street furniture including pedestrian scale lighting, and a pocket park. But although rightfully no pretense was made that the majority of people were going to arrive at that area by any means other than a car, building large sweeping pork-chops rather than conventional right turn lanes was unnecessary and the buildings are scaled down from the original proposals.
In the early 2000s came the “String of Pearls” plan for a number of aging commercial centers. But redeveloping Penn American and the South Loop seems to have consumed all of the cities efforts, and smaller nodes like Nicollet / 98th and Old Shakopee Road and Old Cedar have continued to decay. Now there’s renewed interest in redeveloping them with a neighborhood commercial center study, and a project to redevelop the Old Shakopee Road and Old Cedar Ave area is advancing after a property owner has made overtures.
Industrial Areas Have Been Redeveloping
To the extent industrial jobs still exist in this country, they tend to take place in both large purpose built facilities in the exurbs (see Seagate, Amazon and Shutterfly in Shakopee) and smaller and aging but inexpensive buildings in the inner ring suburbs. The Golden Triangle is archetype for that in the Twin Cities, but Bloomington has a lot of industrial areas too. Bloomington even has two 1980s era semiconductor fabs, one of which is now expanding. They mainly provide customers with the ability to do smaller, more custom runs than larger, more modern facilities would be interested in. But they are experimenting with new technology like carbon nanotubes.
Industrial jobs tend to pay more than those in the service industry. However the land is more valuable as a big box store or even mini storage than industry, and those uses have already replaced numerous industrial uses, especially along American Blvd east of 35W. With the 2040 plan Bloomington is taking a comprehensive look at industrial areas; they’ve separated out the industrial areas into those that will be allowed to be rezoned if a property owner requests and those that must remain to provide livable wage jobs to the residents of the city and the region. The disappearance of middle class blue collar industrial jobs is obviously a bigger issue than just Bloomington, but we need to do our part to keep those that still exist.
The trend is for suburbs to build community centers that generally have meeting and activity rooms, gymnasiums, fitness centers, walking tracks, indoor and/or outdoor aquatics, ice rinks, and covered fields. Maple Grove, Eden Prairie, Chaska, and St. Louis Park all have nice ones. Plymouth is planning to build one. By contrast Bloomington has had a more incomplete and ad-hoc approach to facilities. The standalone Bloomington Ice Garden (BIG) was a runner up for the best amateur hockey facility in the nation. But the Creekside “Community Center” is a retrofitted decommissioned elementary school, for seniors only. It dates from the 1960s with the “exposed mechanical systems are beautiful” aesthetic was just beginning.
The outdoor Bloomington Family Aquatics Center (Valley View Pool) started as a typical 1960s rectangular outdoor municipal pool, but has been retrofitted with zero depth entry and water slides and sees heavy use during the summer.
A lot of money has been invested in renovating and expanding BIG, but there will be huge upcoming costs if city residents want to keep Creekside and Valley View, about $4 and $12 million respectively. And Valley View pool would still only be open a couple of months out of the year. City staff instead plan to build a complete community center at the Valley View site in order in order to zero out future maintenance costs for those facilities and for operational efficiencies. The city is looking for a consultant to come up with an idea of large operable windows or even a sliding wall to keep some of the feel of an outdoor pool in nice weather.
Although the surrounding streets even in their new 3-lane configuration have plenty of extra capacity, the Valley View site is in a heavily residential neighborhood, the community center will take out some existing but mostly underutilized recreational amenities, and parking will need to spill over off the site onto neighborhood streets. This is one of the biggest controversies in the community Facebook groups now, eclipsing previous controversy over the Minnesota Valley State Trail. Some don’t want the city to build a new community center at all, while some just don’t want it at Valley View.
The Orange Line is Coming
With the coming of the Orange Line, changes are coming to the 98th and Lyndale “Oxboro Area”, I covered the history and my ideas for a future of the area previously, now it looks like changes are happening. A few highlights:
- Rezoning for more dense, urban feel. Previously it looked like they tried to make an effort to look urban, but it wound up as a parody with blank walls on buildings built right up to the street.
- Better bicycle pedestrian access and possibly streetscaping from the whole corridor from city hall to Kennedy High School.
- Building a pedestrian refuge island in place of the underutilized double left across the east leg of 98th Street and Old Shakopee Road.
- Replacing pork chop rights with conventional right turn lanes are needed (almost assuredly southbound Lyndale Ave to Westbound 98th street for example) and eliminating those are not, and maybe re-purposing auxiliary lanes.
Pedestrian scaled lighting may be looked at, but the problem is the existing overhead system is deteriorating badly and needs to be replaced immediately, so for the time being a standard Xcel system is being installed. Along with this there’s an ongoing project to redo the landscaping. Those small tree grates never worked right- trees keep dying and remaining small and stunted. Hopefully the work that needs to be done now is usable in the future.
It’s noted that the 98th Street overpass will require replacing in 20 years or so, so it’s time to look at moving the Orange Line station to the median along with the future interchange configuration, something that will necessarily handle heavy volumes of motorized traffic while being reasonably friendly to non-motorized traffic. There’s also an as-yet-vague plan for city-led redevelopment on the Lyndale Ave corridor with a contract for a “suburban retrofit study”. Personally, I hope the drive-thru fast food uses aren’t eliminated, as I use them at least several times a week (and can we please get a coffee shop with a drive-thru somewhere, anywhere, in the eastern half of the city).
The Alternative Transportation Plan
The previously adopted Alternative Transportation Plan (ATP) is mentioned in the 2040 plan. My article Building a Better Bloomington For Bicycles dealt with this so there’s not reason to revisit the topic much except to note that the France Ave trail has been rebuilt to modern standards, and construction of the first phase of the Minnesota Valley State Trail has begun. This first section was chosen to leverage the investment in the Old Cedar Bridge, for people that ride down there and want to have someplace to keep going to, and to form complete loop with the Minnesota River Greenway on the opposite side. Soon residents and visitors of all ages, abilities, and with all kinds of bicycles will be able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Here’s a context map of an intermediate range system of state and regional trails.
The South Loop
I strongly dislike the name “South Loop” for the area east of the Mall and south of the Airport, because there’s nothing resembling a “loop” and the implied connection to Minneapolis’ North Loop rather than being its own thing. But it is what it is, and there’s an ongoing effort to create a downtown from scratch where none existed before, and create a sense of place. There’s new developments going up all over and new public art at 34th and I-494. Forward 2040 builds on the existing 2012 South Loop District Plan to transform it from a “dispersed, suburban commercial area into a walkable, mixed use urban neighborhood”
The proposed Mall of America waterpark deserves mention. Even the Mall American owners can see that shopping malls without entertainment are a dead end. After 30 years there’s still nothing on the expansion site but IKEA and surface parking. (Does anyone remember the 1998 education based “Hyperport” proposal that would have included such things as a space shuttle simulator?). So the owners want the shift mix to be more like 50/50 retail vs entertainment like their American Dream mall being built in New Jersey. The problem is the numbers for the debt service plus operating costs don’t work for financing at commercial rates, but do at noncommercial rates. So the ownership, operations, and financing are being worked out in a incredibly convoluted manner. I look forward to be able to visit here on a cold winter day.
Initially Bloomington was chosen for me when my parents moved out of their city apartment to find a house with a yard in a quiet and safe (but still convenient) suburb in which to start a family. But I’ve chosen to stay here as an adult. I can’t think of any metro city I’d rather live in. Although there are numerous areas to improve, I have confidence in our city government to guide us forward to 2040 and beyond.
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