Grand Rounds plans meet Como opposition

One proposed route could include ‘landmark greenspace’ that would replace blocks of U of M student family housing in the Como neighborhood.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

Residents fear loss of homes, businesses to 'missing link' project

Residents of Southeast Como are concerned that proposed routes to complete the Grand Rounds Scenic Parkway could eliminate homes, businesses, yards and sidewalks in their neighborhood.

Como stakeholders were among the nearly 200 people were packed the gym in the Northeast Recreation Center on Sept. 20 for a meeting about the 3.5-mile between Northeast and Southeast, currently a “missing link” in the Grand Rounds, a 50-mile circuit of walking, running and biking trails through the city’s lakes, parks and riverbanks.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is heading up the missing link project, with consultation from the HNTB Corporation and citizen and technical advisory committees.

Plans are not final, and city officials and project planners seem to be leaning away from the more controversial routes, according to recent reporting in the StarTribune.

Officials promise plenty of opportunity for public input in the coming months before the advisory committees send recommendations to the Park Board this spring, when a “master plan” will be drafted. The project will be “implemented when funds become available,” according to a Park Board press release.

Currently, route options through Southeast neighborhoods include:

–Along Marshall Avenue Northeast and Southeast Main Street to the proposed Granary Road on the university’s East Bank Campus;

–along Stinson Avenue and 15th and Pleasant avenues Southeast;

–along Stinson Avenue, 18th Avenue Southeast and Oak Street;

–along Industrial Boulevard to several routes through industrial areas on east side of the Como neighborhood, including 29th Avenue, according to Park Board information. These routes would cross the rail yards on Como’s southern border by one of several proposed bridges.

(To see a map of the proposed route options, visit the Park Board’s website, listed at the end of this story.)

Another possible aspect of the plan shows a swath of “landmark green space” covering nearly eight square blocks of University of Minnesota property adjacent to a byway option that would run along 29th Avenue Southeast. The area includes several blocks of U of M family housing as well as facilities for the U of M printing food services.

Connie Sullivan, a Como resident and Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) member, said a route down 18th Avenue Southeast would mean tearing down some small businesses and a church that has been a fixture in the neighborhood for a century.

Tom Johnson, project manager for HNTB, which will design the route and alignment, said he sympathizes with residents upset about the prospect of losing their homes. “They walked away frustrated because they didn’t get a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” he said. “We felt bad, but we’re at a point in the process where we don’t have answers to the questions people are concerned about.”

The parkway could be designed so that few or no houses are touched, Johnson said, but that would mean scaling back on amenities. The basic idea, he said, is to transform the area into a destination.

“The point is to create a place that would become a regional draw,” said Johnson. “That’s not something to be taken lightly. It would be something that makes a statement that the community can identify with, sort of like Theodore Wirth Park or the Lake Harriet Bandshell.”

Park Board commissioner Walt Dziedzic and other proponents hope the connection will
make the area more attractive while improving its access to the rest of the city. It could bring walking, running and biking paths to people’s doorsteps, create more parks and raise their property values, he said. Some community stakeholders are optimistic that a completed Grand Rounds will bring reinvestment, redevelopment and environmental cleanup to Como.

To pull it off, “We need the cooperation of people in Northeast and Southeast,” said Dziedzic.

City Councilmember Cam Gordon (Ward 2) said he has high hopes that the eventual route will spur a movement to revitalize some underused buildings and properties in the northernmost section of Como, which is mainly industrial.

Sullivan, also a Southeast Como Improvement Association (SECIA) board member, said many of her neighbors are wary of the project because of a string of recent decisions that have had an adverse effect on the neighborhood, such as the closure of Tuttle Elementary School and Southeast Library.

“This isn’t the first time that someone has come in and said, ‘We’re going to redevelop your crummy neighborhood,’” she said.

While Sullivan is in favor of completing the Grand Rounds, “I’d like to see it be like everything else in Minneapolis — connected to water.” She suggested the connection be built near wetlands to the east or nearby ponds and creeks that flow to the river.

Gordon has said he won’t support a plan that would demolish homes or businesses and thereby eliminate jobs. “Wherever the route goes, there should be consideration for preserving the neighborhood,” he said. He was pleased to see community members come forward.

Another public meeting is set for October 18, 6:30–8:30 p.m., at Windom Recreation Center. To give your input to HNTB, call Project Manager Tom Johnson project at 952-920-4668 or go to www.minneapolisparks.org and search “Grand Rounds Missing Link” to learn more about the project.

last revised: October 11, 2007