West Broadway needs big ideas. The stretch along the south side of Broadway, from around Bryant to Emerson, needs comprehensive investment and change (as does Lyndale to Bryant, and almost every other segment along the corridor). Those two needs, however, do not unilaterally go hand in hand. At a West Broadway Coalition presentation tonight, Tim Baylor's Pinnacle Management group exemplified that specific dynamic.
Pinnacle's proposal, called Satori, is to take every building on the south side of West Broadway from midway along Bryant (commonly referred to as "The Prayer Center Building" even though that tenant is long gone) all the way to Emerson, and tear almost all of it down. In its place would be first-floor retail, second-floor office space, and 2-4 floors of luxury apartments. The plan has its shortcomings, but I could still support it if it were on the north side of the street.
May as well get the obvious one out of the way first. We already have large swaths of vacant land along the corridor that could benefit from such an investment without demolishing several blocks of what the West Broadway Alive plan calls "historic storefronts." While the buildings that would be torn down may not be formally recognized as historic, they still carry deep community significance as connections to the history of the corridor.
And the West Broadway Alive plan calls for these specific properties to be restored, not torn down, making repeated references to refurbishments to the avenue's historic storefronts. The plan also calls for Hawthorn Crossings to be "reconfigured." If there were literally no place else to go to bring in such a development, perhaps this spot would be a good fit.
When pressed about varying from the West Broadway Alive plan, Baylor made reference to how little has happened on Broadway and how the Above the Falls master plan was revised after years of stagnating. He neglected to state, however, that the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression certainly contributed to the lack of progress with that initiative. Nor did he mention that many of the changes in the ATF revision came in spite of repeated and strenuous opposition from community members.
While one public presentation isn't necessarily a bellwether for public opinion, it's certainly fair to say that the most common and strenuous opposition came from the location of the plan and the proposed demolition of the buildings along this stretch.
A day later, and what sticks with me the most (after the above issue) is something so policy-laden I'm not sure how many people picked it up. When asked how soon the Satori project could begin, Baylor said "We hope to break ground [at the Bryant Avenue section] in 2014." But in previous statements about the timing and scope, he stated that he would need site control and/or buy-in from all property owners in the project area (which would be in the area of 15-30, depending on how far south the development extends), and he would need tax-increment financing to cover the funding gaps.
I'm no expert on TIF districts, but from asking around and doing my own preliminary research, it seems like the study alone to determine feasibility can take months. And that's with full political support, which Baylor may or may not have. (He does have the interest of CM Yang and Mayor Hodges, who appear to be supportive of at least parts of the project. How well that translates into action remains to be seen.)
But the bottom line here is that the timing just doesn't add up. Given what we know, it does not seem realistic to get site control and TIF designation with enough time yet in 2014 to begin construction. I highly doubt that Pinnacle would be satisfied with just a half-block on Bryant as the sum of their development; they want the whole shebang. So either the timeline is mistaken, or we're being hustled into a quick decision, or the decision at City Hall is already made for us. I have a renewed faith in our leadership and expect that the latter is not the case. So the most likely explanation is that the promise is being made either without understanding of how the process really works or with the hope that in our excitement we won't look too closely at the details.
The Man, the Myth, the Legend
While Baylor should be lauded for investing in the community, his two main accomplishments are that he brought a McDonald's to West Broadway and upscale townhomes to the Mississippi River. I applaud his investment in north Minneapolis and wish we had more; we are definitely better for it. However, I can't find much information about Pinnacle and there is nothing to suggest that Baylor or Pinnacle has a history of success in making initiatives of this scale work. On the contrary, the Riverview Townhomes had initial plans that were much larger than just one building.
Granted, there was a bit of a hiccup in the housing market a while back, and condos were among the first and hardest-hit markets. But if Baylor's not going to allow for historic economic downturns in his assessment of progress according to master plans, then he is not afforded that luxury when we evaluate his ability to deliver. At the time of publication, I am unconvinced that Baylor or Pinnacle have the track record to pull this off. A franchise restaurant that--let's be honest--has its share of illicit activity happening in the midst of a poor urban planning project and a condominium development that stalled a third of the way through do not exactly inspire confidence.
What I Do Like
I do like that the Satori development thinks big. The scale is maybe a story or so too high, and I wonder how it would fit with residential housing right next door. But I'm happy someone is coming forward with a bold vision for West Broadway and that vision brings in plenty of private development opportunities. The concept demonstrates two things that West Broadway needs. First, we need big ideas and significant investment money coming in. And second, this 2.5-block portion in particular needs a cohesive plan that is unified under one management entity.
What Broadway does not need, however, is the wholesale destruction of the historic structures that give community identity and, when refurbished, will be a point of pride for north Minneapolis once again. When I drive down Broadway from the highway to around Knox, I see vacant land and large swaths of surface parking, and strip malls that detract from the urban character we once had. These are the supposed developments that make me shake my head in disbelief and wonder what people were thinking. Yet when I read newspaper clippings from twenty and thirty years ago, the demolition of historic storefronts and the construction of strip malls and surface parking was hailed as a turning point for the corridor.
We know how that turned out. Let's not make the same mistake twice. Or three times. Or four, I've lost count. The Baylor/Pinnacle/Satori proposal may be workable, but not at the expense of our historic storefronts.