The Upper Harbor Terminal Development Project promises an exciting transformation of North Minneapolis, perhaps is most significant physical and economic structure in a generation. It'll shape what we'll become as a community. City leaders call Upper Harbor an equity-driven project. We haven't heard those words before in Twin Cities community development. My conversation with stakeholders examined what it means to create-equity focused, equity-centered development. Following are excerpts from presentations and commentary by project and community stakeholders in a recent Conversations with Al McFarlane Online Town Hall Meeting.

Presenters included:

  • Markella Smith, McKinley Community Executive Director, and co-chair of the Upper Harbor Terminal Collaborative Planning Committee.
  • Makeda Zulu-Gillespie, executive director of University of Minnesota’s Robert J. Jones Urban Research, Outreachand Engagement Center (UROC).
  • DeVon Nolen, Community Engagement Coordinator at Pillsbury United Communities, leading Pillsbury’s Upper Harbor Learning Tables.
  • Brandon Champeau, Senior Vice President at United Properties, designated developer of the Upper Harbor Terminal Project.
  • Hilary Holmes, Senior Project Coordinator for the City of Minneapolis, who brought focus to the city's vision and commitment to the idea of an equity-centered development.
  • James Trice, principal at the Public Policy Project, and advocate withthe Environmental Justice Coordinating Council, and producer of the unique Learning Tables Engagement initiative.

James Trice:

This whole team is working with us to make sure that the community has what it needs, has what it wants, and benefits in multiple ways, and has ownership of what is going to take place in this development.

Hilary Holmes:

This site is about a mile of riverfront in North Minneapolis, between 44th Avenue and the Lowry Bridge. It's a city-owned property. It's about 48 acres in total. So this is no small site. It is a lot of land with a lot of potential.

The redevelopment planning process started in 2015 when the lock was closed to barge traffic. The site had operated as a barge shipping terminal up to that time. When those operations ceased, the lock closed. But there had been decades of visioning and planning for what the site could be someday. That planning restarted with a new urgency with the closure of the lock.  Since 2015, the city and the Minneapolis Park Board have been working together on this redevelopment planning, bringing in many along the way.

Markella Smith:

It's important to keep in mind is that everyone that's at the table is a community member. It's people who have volunteered their time to have conversations with neighbors, and other community members to figure out what it is that we want in this development.

We've tried to make sure that we're open about what happens next.

We're making sure that community members have time to express themselves. We know there's confusion. We know there's anger. We know there's just frustration in the process and with history. There's a lot of frustration with history of the city and how they've handled things, especially within North Minneapolis and with African Americans.

And so, it's how do we ... not move on from that, but build on that. How do we build something positive and something where we can really move forward and really invest in the Northside that people benefit from in a concrete way. Not just in thoughts and on paper, but how do we really benefit from this development in a concrete way that feels good and doesn't feel like we just got a pat on the head. We got acknowledged, but that's it.

Brandon Champeau:

United Properties, owned by the Pohlad family, is locally based here in the Twin Cities. I think we've been in business now 104 or 105 years. I've been there for about 17 of those 100 plus years. My role is market leader here in the Twin Cities for our commercial development. I run our office in industrial and mixed use projects here in the Twin Cities.

We were selected as a part of the development team that consisted of First Avenue and Thor Companies back in 2016. That was through this RFQ process, that came out of the previous community engagement that happened in 2015 and 2016. So, it's been going on five years now that we've been part of this.

It's been an obviously challenging, but incredibly rewarding and a major learning experience. I've had countless numbers of learning moments at community meetings. I think we've attended over 130 community meetings in the last four plus years. I'll be completely honest. When I got into this project, I was not nearly as educated as I should've been on the history and things that have happened in this area. It really took probably about nine months to a year where I got slapped in the face enough times that I really had to sit down, stop talking, and educate myself on the system and the history and the things that have happened here. I was shocked.

But just redlining, and the historic trauma, the interstate cutting through the neighborhood…  The disparities are not just history, they exist still today. It was an eye opening experience for me. I said we have to listen, stop talking and really figure out how we can get this right, and how we can create a model, a Minneapolis model, for how to deliver equitable development.

It's been an incredible experience to try to figure out how we can create this public/private/philanthropic model centered around  community development that is welcoming for all, and that benefits and showcases everything that North offers. That's what we've been trying to do.

I have to give a ton of credit to our leadership at United Properties; my boss, Bill Katter, and the Pohlad family, because there were times when we didn't know if we should keep going. And some of that was just driven by some of the negative sentiment around the project, and some of it was driven by just the internal pressures of this is taking a lot of time and a lot of resources. The outcome wasn't always clear.

Makeda Zulu-Gillespie:

I want to add to that is, not just redlining, but also covenant agreements, and the foreclosure crisis, and the tornado that all hit North Minneapolis. And with that tornado, some people were underinsured or didn't have enough savings to be able to even stay in their homes when they needed repair. So, we've lost people who were born and raised here and who loved this community. I'm sure if we created the right atmosphere, they would come home.

We are greater than the sum of our parts. We are city staff, United Properties, the Collaborative Planning Committee, Public Policy Project, Pillsbury United, all different parts of the community who love North Minneapolis. And when we say North Minneapolis, we know it's not just about North Minneapolis, but that we are the focal point for African American folks, or as they say, American descendants of slaves.

People ask how is community going to own this? How is community going to impact this?

I bring UROC's goal to transform how communities and universities work together. So I'm a part of this, bringing my personal ideas about how this community should look, but also bringing in the weight of the University. We want to be a part of the solution, and we want to raise the voices of community folks with our platform. We remind people that knowledge is not only within the academy. It is within the community.

We've done a good job of making sure we're looking at jobs for community and housing for many different types of income levels for community members. We want to make sure there is a youth center and business opportunities for large and small businesses, and even manufacturing. We are looking at green space and making sure people have access to the river. The river belongs to all of us.

I see the Upper Harbor as a way to have ownership, a place that belongs to us, and access to the river.

DeVon Nolen:

We have a deep and rich culture here. I am a native Northsider. My family has been here for many generations. And we are more than capable of speaking for ourselves.

We came into this work anticipating doing four Learning Tables, and have since done I think 11. And so, we have been listening and listening and listening. We worked in tandem with the Collaborative Planning Committee. We worked in tandem as much as we could with the CAC, which is the Minneapolis Parks' version of that committee.

I've had the wonderful privilege of facilitating the Learning Tables. I feel so privileged because I've been able to hear from people along the entire spectrum. We don't all necessarily have to agree about what should happen here. We've heard folks who absolutely think this is the wrong thing to do. Folks on the other end of the spectrum are ready to start laying bricks and signing leases.

How do you reconcile that and do it in a way that addresses social ills that have been engineered by these very institutions? That's no small feat.

Brandon Champeau:

If the city approves the coordinated plan in late February, that will set in motion about an 18-month planning process to get phase one rolling, which will consist of the city's infrastructure project. We're proposing two affordable housing projects, as well as some job creation space, and a community performing arts center, and park. And if all goes well, we'd be breaking ground in late 2022.

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