‘Innovation district’ could provide boost

Prospect Park and developers worked for months on the designation project.

Nick Wicker

New businesses, research centers and environmental innovations may dominate Prospect Park in the next five years if the Minneapolis City Council approves an innovation label for the area next week.
A city committee approved a request Tuesday to designate parts of the Prospect Park neighborhood as an innovation district. If the full council approves the designation, common infrastructure along University Avenue Southeast — like parking lots and stormwater runoff systems — could see reduced waste. University research buildings could
also line the street, and some think the area may see a growth in University-graduate-led businesses over time.
The proposal, which stretches back several months, won’t have any specific policy implications until later in the planning process, said Dick Gilyard, a Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association board member.
The plan would unify Stadium Village by requiring its developers and business owners to work together, he said. 
The Prospect North Partnership, which includes developers, environmental groups, PPERRIA members and University representatives, will oversee the planning process, Gilyard said.
New hotels and apartment complexes are currently planned for the area, though the PNP expects to introduce University labs and research buildings as well, said John Wall, president of the Wall Companies and a developer in the district.
The University is one of the only major research schools of its size without a “research park” nearby, said University Metropolitan Design Center Dean and PNP Member Tom Fisher, adding that he hopes the project will change that.
One of the team’s goals includes connecting some of the area’s stormwater runoff systems to keep the water within Prospect Park, Gilyard said, in an effort to conserve what he said could amount to millions of gallons of water usable for drinking or hydroelectric energy.
Other changes would include parking spaces shared among area housing, which would cut construction costs and make future conversions of the space easier, he said.
Fisher said he uses the district as a teaching tool for graduate students and young professionals at the Metropolitan Center of Design. The students work with the PNP to come up with sustainable tools for the area, he said, like sewers that generate heat for homes.
University graduates who are starting their own businesses will likely migrate to the area in the future, Fisher said.
Because designers for the district have to coordinate their plans with the PNP and other developers, Wall said, finalizing ideas takes time.
“It’s taken longer than it would have if we just kind of went at our own thing by ourselves,” he said. “But I’m hopeful in the end the project will be better for it.”
Fisher said the PNP acts as a middleman between city leaders and individual developers to make sure the neighborhood’s needs are met.
“We build our cities one property at a time, and there is rarely the opportunity for people to share,” he said. “In fact, there’s some real disincentives for that because properties aren’t developing at the same rate.”