Bloomington’s Comprehensive Plan: Forward 2040

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).

Bloomington Priority areas for high density housing

Bloomington Priority areas for high density housing   City of Bloomington

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.

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Wright’s Lake Park Mural

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.

Strip Mall

Strip Mall for redevelopment. Yes it’s dumpy, but what about the neighborhood businesses that can’t afford the rent of a nicer place?

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.

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Bloomington Mini Storage that displaced a precision plastics molding company. 


Bloomington Industrial Map

Bloomington Industrial Map City of Bloomington


City Amenities

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.

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Creekside Community Center

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.

Bloomington Family Acquatic Center

Bloomington Family Aquatic Center

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.

Oxboro Neighborhood Clock Tower

Oxboro Neighborhood Clock Tower

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.

Bloomington Regional 2 Final

Bloomington Regional Trails Context

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Minnesota Valley State Trail work

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.

640px The World Waterpark Edmonton

World Waterpark, Edmonton. The Mall of America waterpark would be similar in scale but with dual smaller pools.

Moving Forward

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.

Forward 2040


About Monte Castleman

Monte is a long time "roadgeek" who lives in Bloomington. He's interested in all aspects of roads and design, but particularly traffic signals, major bridges, and lighting. He works as an insurance adjuster, and likes to collect maps and traffic signals, travel, recreational bicycling, and visiting amusement parks.

14 thoughts on “Bloomington’s Comprehensive Plan: Forward 2040

  1. Ben

    Great article, thanks for summarizing this for us! Really interesting stuff.

    I wish I could have read more about the South Loop, which I think has a lot of potential and maybe even be a third “downtown” (Triplet Cities?) someday. Maybe it even deserves it’s own article in the future.

    1. Karl

      It would be really cool to see the “South Loop” area, particularly in the 0.7 miles between the 28th Avenue, Bloomington Central, and American Blvd Blue Line stations become a “South Metro Transit Hub” alternative to the Mall of America.

      While probably unfeasible now, a rail (or express light rail) hub with faster connections than the Blue Line and coming Riverview Streetcar to both downtowns as well as to “all points south” from Bloomington/MSP (either to Rochester or a potential Twin Cities-Chicago HSR route via Rochester, LaCrosse, Madison, Milwaukee) could provide better connections both within the Twin Cities and throughout the region.

      1. Matt Brillhart

        If you’re saying that the MOA transit station should have been built across 24th Avenue from the mall (connected by skyway instead of being inside the mall) and combined with the nearby 28th Avenue Station, I fully agree. There are 1 or 2 too many stations on the Blue Line between Terminal 2 and MOA, in addition to that ridiculous long track slowly curving around an empty field before entering MOA. Aside from the fact that they already exist (and MOA was just remodeled) combining MOA & 28th Stations just east of the mall seems like a no-brainer for service/labor costs, as it would save 3-4 minutes off the running time of each LRT trip (6-8 minutes off each round trip). That really adds up with the high frequency of LRT. My hope is that by the time Riverview is under construction (10 years?) we can give this idea consideration.

        Similarly, Bloomington Central and American Boulevard Stations very easily could have been a single LRT station. Had Bloomington Central been located about 400 feet east of its current location (in front of Reflections instead of HealthPartners), I doubt American Blvd Station would have been added at all. Nearly all current riders would be within the same walking distance to a station under this plan.

        1. Sarah

          Yes! I work in the South Loop, and I pick the American Boulevard Station or Bloomington Central depending completely upon my mood that day. They’re so close together, if there’s a difference at all in my walking time, it’s not enough to notice. I prefer Bloomington Central for how the station and the station area looks (especially in the summer), but my walk from American has more marked crosswalks.

    2. Monte Castleman Post author

      Hopefully it’s not apparent in the finished product, but I struggled a lot developing the article concerning how much content to include in each point-providing details vs keeping the overall length under control, and how much of my personal opinions should be included. As an outline it didn’t really lend itself to splitting, which I normally do if an article starts to get too long.

      One thing I found interesting that got edited out due to length is that the city has clearly stated it’s time for the airport surface parking lots to go away. Park and Fly and Park and Go recently had their conditional use permits renewed- one final time- but the city is clear they now need to start developing their properties.

      I do agree that there’s a lot more to write about the South Loop. However the South Loop area probably deserves articles written by someone that knows more about that specific area than I do. The Mall waterpark is the only development I’ve been really following.

      1. Matt Brillhart

        Hi Monte – Great post on all things Bloomington. I was the editor on duty yesterday. I make some minor changes to your phrasing in other parts but I don’t recall deleting anything about the airport parking lots, so I’m not sure that was in your final draft of the South Loop section.

        The part of Bloomington’s future I’m most interested in is the redevelopment of the neighborhood commercial nodes. There’s so much potential waiting to be unlocked in the (gradual) redevelopment of dilapidated strip malls that line much of Nicollet, Lyndale, Penn, etc. They don’t all have to become mixed-use, new urbanist paradise overnight (e.g. Excelsior & Grand or Heart of the City), but I can see these areas gradually redeveloping to reduce the current overbuilt retail and introducing more housing to the mix. I’m curious about the first map included in your post. I wonder why the city has only identified two “nodes” (Lyndale-98th and France-OSR), when there are so many more that need attention, such as Portland-American, Old Cedar-OSR, and Penn-90th. In any case, I’m glad Bloomington is taking a closer look at these areas for guided redevelopment over the next 20 years.

        I’m constantly taken aback at just how vast Bloomington is, especially compared to other inner-ring suburbs that tend to be smaller (while many 2nd-3rd ring burbs are a standard 6mi x 6mi square). From my home base of south Minneapolis and Richfield, I find myself at MOA or Lyndale-American or Penn-American quite frequently. But I rarely ever venture south of 82nd or west of Penn. Kinda unbelievable that Bloomington extends all the way to 169, bordering Eden Prairie to the west, and Savage/Shakopee to the south. I recently had to drive to that light industrial pocket of far southwest Bloomington, and man it takes forever to get down there, even coming from Richfield. This experience furthered my hypothesis that Bloomington is simultaneously a first, second, and third ring suburb.

        1. Monte Castleman Post author

          I should have clarified in my previous comment that I’m the one that edited out the discussion of the airport parking in a previous draft- it wasn’t really directly part of the 2040 plan and I like to keep my articles to 2000 words. Some other topics I discarded as not directly related were political and ideological tensions and changes in the city government and issues with getting new senior housing built. The more intensive care levels tend to not really engage the neighborhood which is bad for commercial areas, but generate complaints about form and traffic if placed in residential neighborhoods. They’re now putting one in an area formerly intended for offices in Normandale Lakes.

          With regards to redevelopment; there’s obviously a lot more to say than what I was able to in an outline article. There’s really several separate but related initiatives going on. One of them is a more abstract effort to identify specific areas that can support multi-family housing… without triggering a backlash. That’s what the map is about; these areas all have a lot of aging low density commercial that’s buffered from nearby single family residential areas. There’s townhouses coming to a strip of city owned land along Lyndale just south of American and affordable apartments in a former commercial area at 94th and Lyndale, The developer wanted to reduce the parking required so the city made them do a study which concluded that reducing the amount of parking would work.

          Meanwhile there’s the “Neighborhood Commercial Study” which is more about the specifics at specific nodes as well as the “Suburban Retrofit Study” for the Lyndale Ave Corridor and the “Gateway Redevelopment Area” covering most of the area between I-35W and Cedar. Right now these are in the early stages where they city commissioned a study for, and is looking for developers to come up with ideas.

          The current neighborhood commercial redevelopment that’s actively in the works is Old Shakopee Road and Old Cedar. One of the property owners approached they city about redeveloping and that skewed intersection with no left turn lanes of Old Shakopee has been the scene of many crashes.

    3. stevnim

      Not well known, is that the Federal government has classified Bloomington as a Central City since the 1990 Census. Central City status is defined as having more people work there than live there. So, in effect, Bloomington has suburbs.

  2. Eric Ecklund

    For me as a Bloomington resident who tries to bike for recreation and getting to places, the ATP doesn’t go far enough in making Bloomington more bike and pedestrian friendly. But I have plenty more to say on that in a future post.

    Also, assuming they don’t plow it in the winter, the new paved trail in the Minnesota River Valley will be unusable for around half the year. Instead of wasting money on a trail that will be flooded or covered in snow and ice for a good chunk of the year why not put that money towards much more useful bike and pedestrian infrastructure? How about where people need to go like schools, grocery stores, transit stations, etc.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      I guess it’s kind of like the “If we don’t spend money on light rail we’ll have more money to spend on highway lanes” argument. It might be true in a very broad theoretical sense, but for all practical purposed they come from pots of money that are difficult to impossible to reallocate, so it’s not a zero sum game. The only exception to that would be the Met Council TAB grants, (where the France Ave trail won funding for but the river bottoms trails did not).

      From my point of view I have no interest in riding my bicycle down France Ave (or any other Bloomington street). I don’t oppose such projects, and in particular am disappointed no protected infrastructure being planned for along Portland Ave even when it’s completely reconstructed. But my riding is that about twice a week in the summer I load my bicycle into my car and drive to places like Hyland Park, the Grand Rounds, Minnehaha Parkway, Browns Creek; even the Root River trail a couple of times a summer. It will be nice to have an option of going out for a similar ride right from my front door.

      1. Eric Ecklund

        “It will be nice to have an option of going out for a similar ride right from my front door.”

        When the trail isn’t flooded or snowed in, so a good chunk of the year it’s unusable unless you want to try walking on it in the winter.

        Based on your comment you’re a seasonal recreational bike rider. For people like me who at least try to bike to reach destinations to cut our carbon footprint or just to get exercise while commuting this trail is a waste when we have more important corridors to focus on like Old Shakopee Road. And I try to bike all year, but of course in the winter that’s much easier said than done. If Bloomington is trying to be bike friendly then they need to realize they need to focus on areas where people need to go. Having nice recreational trails is great, but it doesn’t mean the city is bike friendly.

        If the funding for this trail can’t go to something much more useful like a cycle track along Old Shakopee then it should go to a recreational trail that won’t get flooded and can maybe be useful for certain commuting trips even if the main intention is for recreation.

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Good article, Monte. I found the stuff about aging population and shifting demographics to be very interesting and parallels what is happening around the Twin Cities.

    I cannot believe that self-storage facilities are good for cities. There have to be an absolute minimum number of jobs created with a land use like that…

    1. Jake N

      self serve Mini Storage units generate tons of income, and price isn’t impacted by neighborhood character much. The rental income per sqft is surprisingly about the same as a lower end apartment but with much less overhead.

      They may not be good for the city, but they can be a very profitable business, and can easily be more profitable than paying people to make stuff.

  4. smf

    “For the most part, single family homeowners will not be face the possibility of having apartment towers on all sides of their property.”

    This struck me as a strange way to put it. Why not say: “For the most part, single family homeowners will not have the option to add to the housing stock by subdividing their home or building a 2-4 unit building in its place.”

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