The plan to reopen Nicollet Ave at Lake Street is slowly moving forward. Demolition of the buildings on the former Kmart site is scheduled next year with street construction aimed for 2025.
This April, Minneapolis city staff announced that over the next few months they will design the street and propose details for new public green space.
The update follows a six-month period of community engagement that involved at least five city departments, consultants and several neighborhood and community organizations including the Whittier Alliance, the Lake Street Council and the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.
“We wanted to be involved in this way, so that we could ensure that our knowledge of and relationships in the community – and those of the other community-based organizations in partnership on this work – could be leveraged in large part to embed historically under-engaged voices in our neighborhoods into the process and decision-making,” said Whittier Alliance Executive Director Kaley Brown.
“It was a great process from our perspective,” said Sarah Linnes-Robinson, who is acting director for the Lyndale as well as Kingfield neighborhood organizations. She helped draft the eight-page report shared with the council in April. Linnes-Robinson highlighted the diversity represented at forums and extensive canvasing throughout the neighborhood with bilingual canvassers. “It was fantastic to see the city doing community organizing,” she said. “The neighborhoods were honored to be part of the process.”
Staff reported that over 1,750 people participated in over 20 events, and over 10,000 people responded to an online survey, including 2,500 residents of the four surrounding neighborhoods. After analyzing the results of the input, they identified their top goals as reconnecting Nicollet Ave, creating public space, improving pedestrian safety, and preventing the displacement of residents and businesses currently living or operating in the area.
The input gathered was used to identify 23 desired outcomes broken up into six main themes: connecting people to places; culturally relevant community spaces; housing affordability and wealth building; business opportunities and success; space for community services; designing for inclusivity, safety, and sustainability.
“The report is accurate,” said Linnes-Robinson. Her only regrets were that it didn’t start sooner and go longer. “It was unfortunate it wasn’t as long as we had hoped,” she said.
“What hit me is that there is a lot of alignment between what the overall priorities would be – affordable housing, transportation connections, more green space, more open space,” said Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman. “It seems like our wants and dreams are all very similar.”
The themes and the full list of outcomes will be used in the next phase of engagement that will begin soon and is expected to conclude by the end of the year. Then staff will recommend a Nicollet Ave street layout and a Public Space Framework for Mayor and City Council approval.
HISTORY OF THE SITE
The former Kmart site emcompasses about 10 acres that the city now owns between the Midtown Greenway, Lake St., 1st Ave., and Blaisdell Ave. in southwest Minneapolis.
From 1920 to 1954 the area was a commercial intersection where two major streetcar lines met. Streetcar service ended in 1954 and the I-35W freeway was constructed nearby over the next decade. The city purchased the land and tore down the buildings; in 1978 Nicollet was closed off, the land was sold, and Kmart and SuperValu opened.
Since the 1990s, reconnecting Nicollet has frequently been a campaign issue in city elections and a priority of elected officials, including former Mayor R. T. Rybak and former Council Members Robert Lilligren, Elizabeth Glidden and Lisa Bender. In 1998, the council formed a Nicollet-Lake Task Force. In 2015, they approved purchasing the vacant grocery store building. In 2017, they purchased the Kmart property for $8.0 million, and in 2020 terminated the Kmart lease for $9.1 million.
During that time the city also completed a streetcar study that identified a network of seven modern streetcar corridors. In 2010, it prioritized the Nicollet and Central Ave., corridors as the best place to start implementation of the network. In the mayor’s state of the city address in 2012, Rybak highlighted the reopening of the street with a new streetcar line. In 2013, the mayor and city council approved a modern streetcar, that would run between Lake Street and 8th Street NE on Nicollet Ave., and Hennepin/1st Avenues, and Central Ave., using the Hennepin Avenue bridge to cross the Mississippi River, as the preferred transit improvement for the corridor.
While a streetcar line did not come up at the meeting in April, among the work that will be done over the next phase of community engagement will be “facilitating community dialogue about which transportation modes on the new Nicollet Ave. will best support the existing neighborhood, network, and future development needs.” Part of the corridor, along the Nicollet Mall downtown, does not currently allow automobiles.
Moving forward, city staff will continue contracting for services from outside the city. Public works has contracted with Short Elliot Hendrickson, Inc. (SEH) to help design the new Nicollet Ave. and bridge over the Midtown Greenway. Community engagement will be conducted in part by ZAN Associates as a subcontractor to SEH. The Community Planning and Economic Development Department is contracting with TEN x TEN to complete a Public Space Framework for the site, which also will include community engagement. TEN x TEN has contracted with Whittier Alliance for the engagement part of the contract and staff report that the city will continue to work with the additional community partners from phase I. In the budget coming forward from the Capital Long-Range Improvement Committee, there is $17 million proposed for the Lake at Nicollet reopening in 2025.
“It’s been 10 years and it is going to require a lot of money,” said Ward 8 Council Member Andrea Jenkins. “The process is important. It is such a big project and impacts so many people.”
“I would like to see the facilitated dialogues include members and leadership at Alhikma Islamic Center and IX [Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia] as these two groups have deep connections in the immediate area around the Kmart site, as well as robust contracts with the neighborhood organizations,” said Ward 8 City Council candidate Soren Stevenson.
“I feel very proud of the engagement work we did in the first phase with the time and resources provided, and I can confirm that many folks who had not previously participated in a community redevelopment process were supported in providing their ideas, concerns, and vision for what this project can do for our neighborhood,” said Brown. “There’s always much more to do and ways to continue growing our reach within different segments of the community, but it’s been a strong start from my perspective.”
“It’s totally critical that the neighborhood organizations are involved in community engagement going forward,” said Linnes-Robinson.
In addition to work on the public spaces, the new street, and what transportation modes should be included, staff will continue to develop strategies to fund, build, and manage affordable and mixed income housing, and supportive services for under-served stakeholder groups, rather than only requiring a percentage of affordable units. They will also find and meet with additional “collaborators to explore opportunities to support the economic, social, cultural, and physical health of residents.”
“We need to use this opportunity to have meaningful engagement with people and organizations in the vicinity so that the needs of people are centered over other desires,” said Stevenson. “That looks like a Nicollet Ave. connection that prioritizes people above all else and development plans that will promote community stability and local ownership.”
Millions of dollars will likely be spent and major decisions, with long-lasting consequences, are set to be made for this key 10-acre area over the next two years.
“It is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we want to make sure that we get it right,” said Jenkins.
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