Minneapolis' North Loop Neighborhood 30 BC (Before Condos)
By now we take the extraordinary rebirth of the Minneapolis North Loop for granted. First Avenue North is a long-established entertainment street, the new Twins stadium is connecting downtown with the industrial district beyond, and hundreds of architecturally distinctive condos have been constructed in landmark warehouse buildings or built new. It all seems to make sense as a piece—and of course it does.
Yet a modern-day Rip van Winkle awakening after 30 years would be utterly bewildered by the changes in this scene. As late as the 1970s, the newly revitalized Butler Square was a lone outpost west of First Avenue, its single trendy bar mildly notorious for the one-way glass wall of its men's room (embarrassingly, two-way before the bugs were worked out). The city's downtown plan called for a stadium right where Target Field has been built, but this location over I-394 was perceptually the end of the world, or at least the world of Downtown. Connecting beyond would make no sense. That is because the existing industrial buildings of the North Loop, especially south/west of Washington Avenue were considered obsolete, the district slated for eventual renewal as a modern light-industrial district. No one imagined housing in this desolate area, other than for the handful of existing flophouses.
The rebirth of the North Loop required a fundamental reordering of Minneapolis perceptions. Unlike, say, Chicago or Manhattan, Minneapolis has always been a city of distinct boundaries. These unwritten perceptions were unconsciously understood by Minneapolitans, so-ingrained as to go unnoticed (except by outsiders). Not only were residential neighborhoods subtly differentiated in one's mind, each from all others, but even Downtown was understood by insiders as an orderly mosaic of discrete districts. When City Center was proposed in the mid 1970s, some potential tenants resisted a move to the project's new office tower because its location one block west of Marquette Avenue was perceived as a retail district, not as a place for business.
So, how did this startling perceptual revolution occur? Amazingly for the traditionally interconnected downtown culture, it was largely stimulated by an outsider, Melisande Charles, who had been recruited to head the city's newly created Arts Commission. As a New Yorker who was naturally familiar with the extensive loft living in Manhattan, she immediately appreciated the moribund Warehouse District as a priceless resource, rather than as blocks of obsolete buildings, then the common local view. Charles took full advantage of her official position to champion an entirely new role for the area. Today's vibrant Warehouse District largely reflects her vision.
Of course the re-imagined First Avenue North served as an anchor, physically and symbolically, for the subsequent expansion of offices, retail, entertainment, bars, restaurants, and housing into the adjacent North Loop district. As this area increasingly thrived as a memorable place to work and to live, its grittiness became an attraction, leading inevitably to an expansion of condo housing into blocks that would previously have been unthinkable, all the while radically expanding the perceptual boundaries of Downtown Minneapolis.
And there's a personal lesson here for all of us: even in a highly interconnected culture like the downtown Minneapolis business community, one person can make a difference. As the city's former redevelopment director, Charles Krusell, liked to point out, "The power to propose is the greatest power of all."
Flash forward to 2010 and browse through all kinds of North Loop condos on the internet (also unimaginable back then) at http://www.MinnesotaLoftsandCondos.com. On the site you will also be able to search an entire directory of North Loop condos and lofts for sale.Date: Wednesday, January, 20th 2010 @ 12:36:15 AM
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