Days like these are ones that seem normal, that seem innocent, that seem commonplace or mundane. But do not take these beautiful sidewalks for granted. In March or October, you would fall down on your knees and weep to receive a day like this. In June, you shrug your shoulders and stare at your shoelaces.
*** ***[A colorful angle for Minneapolis lights.] *** ***[This story about the $20 fine for $10K of damage is like the lady who killed a few motorcyclists and got a minor ticket.]
*** ***[Biking has these small moments of beauty.]
*** ***[And biking has these small moments of something different from beauty.]
[Click for Part One of this series on Target Field. The image at Right illustrates how Target Field's elevated sidewalk takes fans over and through the previously impenetrable moat of parking garages just to the West of 2nd Avenue N in Downtown Minneapolis.]
During the long debate over the funding and construction of Target Field, one of the most common and most compelling criticisms was that it made no sense to place a $350 million baseball stadium directly next to the HERC plant, the county’s huge industrial facility solely devoted to generating electricity by burning foul-smelling garbage.
Indeed, Target Field sits at a vortex of different parts of downtown Minneapolis. It borders the night club-centric 1st Avenue/Warehouse district area on the East, touches the residential / riverfront North Loop on the North, and, on the South and West sides, rubs up against the city’s neglected and overlooked LULU zone.
[An angle of Target Field you'll never see in the brochure, emphasizing its proximity to the elevated 394 freeway and the Hennepin County garbage burner.]
LULUs is urban planning lingo* for Locally Unwanted Land Uses, which includes homeless shelters, halfway houses, garbage burners, and other loud light industrial businesses like metal smashing and car crushing and whatever else comes with ultra low property values. LULUs are the logical consequences of NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard), as every time property value laden homeowners get outraged over some zoning change, cities tend to place unwanted or politically difficult projects in places that already have politically difficult projects. So, the end result is that all the homeless shelters in the city tend to get clustered together, and placed next to the garbage burner and the bus depot. And so Target Field is next to the garbage burners and the homeless shelters and a bunch of other ‘interesting’ places in ‘near North’ Minneapolis that you’ve probably never been to or heard of.
[You can still see what the stadium site used to look like on Google Maps. The field lies within a section of town cut off by 3 or 4 freeways, train tracks, and other impenetrable infrastructural barriers.]
As a result, the stadium’s design performs a delicate land use dance, opening itself up to the neighborhoods on the South and East, and shielding itself off from areas to the North and West. In fact, compared to any other contemporary stadium, Target Field’s site is incredibly compact. (I’ve heard a little as 8 acres, so this seems ridiculously small to me.) It was built on a site that was once a surface parking lot, just on the on the non-downtown side of the mid-90s I-394 & parking lot project. The (misguided) 394 project erected an elevated 8-lane freeway leading directly from downtown to the wealthy Western suburbs, which placed a huge barrier between the now-gentrifying North Loop area from the LULU zone. And, on the South Side, placed a giant complex of city-owned five-story parking garages that essentially formed a fortified wall between the downtown office buildings and the LULU zone. Target Field is on the ‘wrong’ side of both of these large barriers, but manages to bring people over the divides in very elegant ways.
And, through a few design tricks, the stadium does this without really seeming to. Most of the fans are encouraged to enter via entrances that link up to the light rail stop or the 1st Avenue / Warehouse district area. Particularly with its connection to East, the stadium uses an elevated sidewalk and plaza to make this transition fairly seamless, so that you don’t really notice that you’re next to a freeway or going through an area surrounded by large parking garages. Fans can enter without really even seeing or noticing the extensive freeway and parking infrastructure.
[An elevated sidewalk and plaza, and a clever "Chino Latino" mask for the pre-existing parking lot, is one way that Target Field manages to disguise its infrastructural surroundings.]
At the same time, the stadium places a scrim wall all along its Northwest-facing ‘backside’, ostensibly featuring the history of Minnesota Twins greats (including my favorite, Ron Davis), but actually preventing people from seeing the industrial land uses directly adjacent to the stadium. Only with close careful inspection and no little amount of peering can you tell that there are power transformers, homeless shelters, scrapyards, and a HUGE garbage burner directly next to the stadium.
[The scrim on the Northwest side of the stadium, shielding baseball fan's eyes from the unsightly smokestacks and homeless shelters of the city's LULU zone.]
In this way, the stadium connects a little section of real estate that was previously unconnected to the downtown street life, including a number of wonderful (and large) historic buildings, like the huge 10 story warehouse across 5th Avenue from the stadium. When the stadium was built, there was (and still is) a lot of concern about how the ballpark land use would fit with the industrial and social service land uses nearby. For example, how will homeless people be treated if they hang out in the ‘public’ plaza in front of the stadium? Will the huge county investment in the garbage burner next door to the stadium be limited by the fan’s or the team’s intolerance of any unusual odors? Will industrial businesses near the stadium, like Shapco or Northern Auto Parts be able to stand the disruption of baseball games 82 times a year, or will they flee to the suburbs and take their increasingly endangered urban industrial jobs with them?
At any rate, when compared to a sparsely-settled site out in the suburbs, or a depopulated site surrounded by surface parking lots (like the old Metrodome), the site of Target Field is a very interesting place, surrounded by a diverse set of land uses. The stadium does a very interesting architectural dance, managing to draw people in from the active areas of downtown across some majorly disruptive infrastructural barriers, while keeping people and stadium street life away from the industrial areas of the city. For fans of the both the Twins and the city of Minneapolis, seeing how this area changes during the next few years will be very interesting.
* 94% of urban planning lingo consists of the Construction and UTilization of Acronymns (CUTA).
[Even on an off day, you can find Twins fans walking next to the previously remote Shapco manufacturing company and historic warehouse building.]
[Basically, the problem is that the best source of local streets & sidewalks news in Saint Paul is the Highland Villager. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. I'm reading the Highland Villager so that you don't have to. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]
Total # of articles about sidewalks: 9 Total # of articles about sidewalks written by Jane McClure: 8
Title: Path of most resistance; Town & Country sues city to stop sidewalk on Marshall Avenue Author: Jane McClure
Short short version: The historical [and Wealthy] Saint Paul private golf club sues to stop the city from building a sidewalk along a relatively busy pedestrian stretch of Marshall Avenue (right on the #21 bus line). The assessment is only $42K [too much for the private club whose initiation fees and annual dues are... well... if you have to ask, you can't afford it. -Ed.]. Includes a quote from Pat Harris, who "did not agree with assessing the Town and Country Club for a sidewalk its members will not use and do not want". [Maybe Harris would support the building of a moat, that would keep bus riders and non club members away from the club's fences? Though, to be fair, the Town & Country Club has long been the best place for wintertime sledding, and has allowed access to its wonderful hills and views for neighborhood sledders of all ages. -Ed.]
Title: Loss of lease bowls over owners of classic Ran-Ham Author: Jane McClure
Short short version: More on the tragic story of Steve and Sheri Steiner, owners of the [totally awesome] Ran-Ham bowling alley, who recently lost the lease to their obscure basement space across from Cretin-Derham Hall. The Steiners have contacted the Preservation Alliance and the Heritage Preservation Commission, and started a Facebook Group.
Title: Central Corridor light-rail line enters final design phase; Construction bids are coming in below the estimated project costs Author: Jane McClure
Short short version: Another bureaucratic hurdle jumped for the CCLRT, including the announcement of bids and the "final design stage" for the light rail train. Now CCLRT staff can "submit the documentation" to get final approval from the FTA for the project.
Title: Lower LRT bids may shift streetscape costs Author: Jane McClure
Short short version: The lower than expected bids for LRT constructions means that there is more money for streetscaping (lighting, trees, sidewalks, etc.) which means that the assessments to property owners may be smaller than initially thought.
Title: Union Park gives it blessing to parking ban on Marshall Author: Jane McClure
Short short version: A local neighborhood group agreed to prohibit parking on Marshall Avenue b/w Snelling and the Mississippi at certain times, in order to improve snowplowing under the new traffic calmed 2 lanes + bike lane + parking regime. [The street used to be 4 lanes + parking. -Ed.]
Title: Rooms to spare; City allows Summit mansion to be sold as is, but sets six-year window to reduce living units Author: Jane McClure
Short short version: The Planning Commissions has decided that the new owner of a Summit Ave mansion (The Griggs Mansion, 476 Summit) must change the number of apartments inside from 6 to 4 in order to maintain the required level of density [and property values -Ed.] along Saint Paul's fanciest street.
By most accounts, Saint Paul’s West Seventh Street is the oldest street in the city.* To this day, some of the street signs still say “Old Fort Road”, because, way back in eighteen hundred and something or other, this was the way folks got from the busy commercial port of Saint Paul to the military HQ at Fort Snelling. The road runs along the ridge on the bluff, high over the curving Mississippi River, and it could probably could tell a million stories, not all of them pleasant.
Today, West Seventh still cuts diagonally following the river leading folks from Downtown to the airport. And it forms the center of a string of interesting and downtrodden neighborhoods that sit at the base of Saint Paul’s big hills and bluffs (Ramsey hill, Crocus hill, Highland Park…). This was the street where blue collar Keanu and Cameron met in the underrated film Feeling Minnesota, and this is the working class area where Garrison Keillor set one of his a-bit-too-horny novels. Down here, along the river, sits a street with a wide range of diversity, from wonderfully preserved row houses to 50s kitsch to strip malls and ugly 70s public housing. It’s a street that will never stop surprising you.
Part of the reason for West 7th's surprise is that, like any old street (New York’s Broadway is the most famous example), West 7th wreaks havoc with the 90 degree angle street grid. Slashing diagonally through the edge of the city, the street periodically forms chaotic little 6 and 7-way intersections, opening up space into odd polyhedrons, and making what in any other city would be called a ‘square’, but in Saint Paul is just a particularly long wait at a red light.
[The odd angles of the West 7th intersction opens up unusual spaces.]
Well, if you travel from Saint Paul to Minneapolis along Old Fort Road, you’ll eventually cross a railroad bridge and find yourself awestruck by a looming, large red brick building, bursting with barricades, and topped by a tall smokestack chimney that vertically reads Schmidt’s, and horizontally reads Landmark. This is the old Schmidt’s brewery, perhaps the largest and most historical of the Twin Cities’ old breweries. “Worth preserving at all costs”, according to local architectural historian Larry Millett, the Schmidt brewery grew on this site due to the fortunate happenstance of the bluff’s cool sandstone caves, perfect for beer storage…At one point the huge old red brick brewery used to be one of the largest breweries in the Midwest and employ thousands of people (I’m guessing). Then, Schmidt's beer fell out of style and couldn’t compete with the centralized industrial Milwaukee and St. Louis beers or whatever, and the brewery died slow death, going through various owners, turning into a short-lived ethanol factory (that made the whole neighborhood stink to high heaven), before becoming nothing but a condo-filled glint in the eyes of penniless developers.
Maybe someday the old Schimidt's brewery will be restored and come back to life, but today it sits, a giant hulking mass of awesome old-ness, casting its shadow on the neighborhood. It sits, as if suspended in time, still as a rock. The building is in a brewery coma, and its only sign of life, like the periodic beep of the heart monitor, is the sidewalk-side distribution of “fresh spring water” at very affordable prices.
[The tall smokestack of the Schmidt's brewery rises over the collection of abandoned brick buildings.]
[Cool spring water from deep underneath the sandstone caves of Saint Paul is available on this West 7th sidewalk.]
But that is not the end of this West 7th Street sidewalk. In the shadows of the Schimidt's smokestack, you will find one of the best-preserved collections of old pre-War two-story, mixed-use brick buildings, with storefronts flush with the street, interesting signs hanging over the sidewalk, beautiful brickwork, and a diverse collection of uses including “saddelry”, a fire station, a coffee shop, an art gallery, and, the old favorite one-two punch, an Alcoholics Anonymous center right next to a bar.
This corner has some wonderful building stock, and forms an overlooked little commercial node. Walking along these sidewalks you can’t help but wonder what it was like when the brewery was open, and all of these businesses were booming, and filled with beer-appreciating and well-paid workers who lived nearby. You can’t help but wonder when, someday, the dreams of the artists in the beautiful art-deco Pilney Building will come to fruition, and this neighborhood will have a ‘scene’. You can’t help but wonder if this could be "the next northeast Minneapolis”, if the brewery could be filled with architects office's, hard at work designing the parking lots of Target stores, if the old row houses could restored and filled with hipsters, if these little storefronts could host chippies and bike shops and meat markets and meat markets...
[The storefronts press up against the empty West 7th sidewalks to form a great space for people.]
[At this point, this dense commercial strip has more potential than pedestrians.]
[The Pilney Building hosts the beginnings of an arts community.]
Well, hell no, that’s not going not happen. This is Saint Paul. It'll never be Minneapolis. But Saint Paul does have a style and an honesty all its own, and this neighborhood still has light industrial land uses, and a touch of the Saint Paul conservative streak. It doesn’t have nearly the church/ bar density that Northeast Minneapolis boasts, and its a long way from anyplace with young people or jobs or dramatically increasing property values.
But you can’t predict the future. Back when this was Old Fort Road and Pig’s Eye was still a pariah, nobody foresaw the future of this spot, with all its breweries and famous kidnappings and the waxing and waning of the economic tides. I do wonder if and when this part of West 7th street will take off, launching itself into some unknown future. But until then, it’s a good spot to find yourself wandering and wondering on the sidewalks.
* Though Hennepin Avenue is rumored to once have been an Indian footpath.
[For some reason, this bus stop has a glass back that opens up on a completely inaccessible, unused outdoor patio space.]
[In any other city, this intersection would be a 'square' named after a local politician.]
[The Shamrocks bar has a tiny outdoor patio, and the only nightlife in the area.]
Update: I just found this news story on the Schmidt's Brewery!
A week-long celebration of biking and walking in the Twin Cities area. Follow the links to print off a free Metro Transit bus pass for many of these events.
Bike Walk to Work Day is Thursday June 8th! Walk or bike to work, or just get out and be seen that morning! Check out one of the many celebration locations where you can grab a bite to eat and connect with fellow movers and shakers. Email Michelle or Owen to volunteer in Minneapolis or St. Paul (6-9am).
Saturday: Twin Cities Heart Walk & celebrate National Trails Day with Three Rivers Park District
Sunday: Ride or walk with us in the Grand Old Day parade! Email Damian at St. Paul Smart Trips to come along (lineup 9am at Grand and Fairview, parade begins 10am)
Tuesday: Beyond the Motor City film screening at St. Anthony Main (more info below). Wednesday: Women's Wednesday (activities all day) and Complete Streets Happy Hour (more info below)
Thursday: Bike Walk to Work Day - bike or walk to work on your own or with a convoy. Stop in for a celebration around the metro (including downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul). Join us for the launch of Nice Ride, the nation's largest bike sharing system at 12 noon on Nicollet mall.
Sunday: Bike to the Twins game - free gift bags for the first 1000 fans biking to the Twins v. Atlanta game. Volunteers needed from 11:30am-1pm to help direct cyclists to the game and possibly hand out gift bags. Email Lisa at the Dept. of Transportation to volunteer - no free tickets (the game is sold out) but you'll get a t-shirt!.