Cedar-Riverside may see new connections to downtown area

by Elizabeth Smith

Plans to build a bridge to connect Cedar-Riverside to downtown Minneapolis and a lid over I-35W are generating discussion among neighborhood residents.
Members of the University of Minnesota Metropolitan Design Center team, which created the plans for the I-35W cap, sat down with Cedar-Riverside residents last week to hear their concerns, and city officials are reaching out to residents to hear opinions on the new bridge.
In previous discussions, residents were worried that the projects would affect the neighborhood’s value, especially as tailgaters move in when the new Vikings’ stadium opens in the summer of 2016. But now, they’re showing more openness to the plans and pointing to their potential benefits.
West Bank Community Coalition president AJ Siddiqui said he thinks the area’s businesses could benefit from the projects, and once completed, they could attract customers on game days.
The pedestrian bridge is part of a year-long $10 million construction project that’s starting this summer. It will move the westbound I-94 South Fifth Street exit ramp to Seventh Street, allowing for a new bridge to connect Fifth Street in Cedar-Riverside to downtown Minneapolis.
The city is in the process of planning construction and asking for resident feedback, city spokesman Casper Hill said.
City planners are still deciding whether the bridge will be exclusive to pedestrians or contain a lane for traffic. 
Siddiqui and other community members said they hope it won’t allow cars for fear that could lead to crowded parking lots and streets in the area.
“We want our businesses to flourish, and if there’s [foot] traffic that comes in, that would be great,” Siddiqui said. “A footbridge can serve that purpose.”
Former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak dedicated the bridge to Hussein Samatar, the city’s first Somali school board member, but Hill said city officials are still working on finalizing its exact name. 
The Metropolitan Design Center’s team spoke to community members about its proposed lid last week, which could make room for apartment complexes, schools, a pharmacy and other services.
The 17-acre project is far from construction, but it is garnering attention from neighborhoods like Downtown East, design center research fellow 
Jonathan Rozenbergs said. 
Rozenbergs presented at the meeting and said he felt it is important to get residents involved in an open conversation about the project.
Cedar-Riverside lacks some of the services the lid would provide, Siddiqui said.
“It’s about increasing housing diversity,” Rozenbergs said.
But residents and neighborhood association members Nichole Buehler and Christopher Stegeman fear the project could result in a gentrification of the neighborhood, which is home to the state’s largest affordable housing unit.
“I love the idea of lidding freeways to expand green space and to cut down pollution,” Stegeman said, “but we need to think of how this could homogenize this area so it looks like every other neighborhood in town.”
Following the presentation, community members like Siddiqui — who were once strong opponents of the proposal — were more receptive to the projects.
“As long as it doesn’t destroy affordable housing or take away from the environment that we have, it could be a good thing,” Siddiqui said.