Letter to the editor: the Upper Harbor Terminal doesn’t support the public interest

Letter to the Editor

Earlier this year, the Minneapolis City Council voted to approve the Upper Harbor Terminal (UHT) Concept plan — which features a private concert venue and hotel, less parkland and river access than originally called for, and less opportunity for community revitalization — and five amendments to the concept plan. These amendments were items that community members helped draft and were the result of a broad coalition of Northside residents, anti-displacement, and environmental activists coming together to strengthen language in the concept plan. This broad coalition pressured elected officials to amend the concept plan to utilize a racial equity framework to help guide redevelopment policies at this site, include community ownership opportunities, incorporate environmental standards, implement anti-displacement strategies, and provide power-sharing opportunities in the next phases of planning.

The City of Minneapolis is moving quickly to go from the approved UHT Concept Plan to a Coordinated Plan and has designated a self-imposed timeline of March 2020 to approve the Coordinated Plan. The planning process and Collaborative Planning Committee (CPC) appointed earlier this year that are assisting in guiding us from the Concept Plan to the Coordinated Plan were supposed to provide meaningful community engagement and authentic opportunities for residents to review and discuss several alternative development proposals or options. The CPC has not had the opportunity to create or evaluate a single alternative development scenario.

The City of Minneapolis, United Properties, and First Avenue are not working to advance the public’s interests and instead seek to allow private interests to take the lead and reap the majority of the benefits on publicly-owned property and enrich one of the wealthiest families in the nation, the Pohlad family. Moreover, the City cites that its number one state bonding priority for the 2020 legislative session is a $20 million request for public bonds to finance a privately-operated concert venue at UHT. This venue will be operated by First Avenue and is unlikely to yield many living-wage jobs. Taxpayers are being asked to subsidize a project that makes a few wealthy people wealthier while not delivering living-wage jobs, affordable housing, or economic inclusion. City leaders should be required to explain to Northside residents why the city is choosing a private development scheme, abandoning its commitment to equity, and how this project came about with wealthy developers at the forefront, not community vision.  

This city-owned site offers much more opportunity to shape development and set the tone for the rest of the Northside riverfront. UHT is what sets the tone for what the Northside riverfront will be and who it will be for. If the city truly cared about equity, it would have approached UHT as a community development project, not a real-estate development project. The next wave of land sales and redevelopments are likely to be private transactions over which city control is limited. Trying to address gentrification, displacement, and racial disparities through those private developments will be expensive and ineffective. Now is the time to address those and the city is wasting the opportunity. 

Alexis Pennie is a Northside resident, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Alumni, and serves on the City of Minneapolis’ Upper Harbor Terminal Collaborative Planning Committee as Chair.