Upper Harbor Terminal: North Minneapolis voices

by Colleen O'Connor Toberman
An aerial photo of the abandoned industrial buildings next to the river at Upper Harbor Terminal.

The mile-long Upper Harbor Terminal site in North Minneapolis awaits new development. (Tom Reiter for FMR) 

In recent weeks, over 90 Minnesotans have contacted their legislators to oppose state bond funds for First Avenue's proposed concert venue at the Upper Harbor Terminal site on the North Minneapolis riverfront.

FMR has continued to oppose this project because we've heard from so many community members concerned about the poor planning process, the lack of racial and economic equity, the uncertainties in the plan, the lack of regard for the river and the environment, and several other aspects of the controversial redevelopment. (See media coverage about community concerns from MPR and North NewsMinnPostFox 9, and the Star Tribune, as well as this resignation letter from planning committee members.)

We're sharing excerpts below from some of the letters North Minneapolis residents have written to state leaders opposing public funds for First Avenue's project on this city-owned riverfront stretch. While these writers' voices are their own, we share their concerns.

Perpetuating racial disparities

 

  • "The proposed bonding request does not prioritize the economic, social, cultural, and primary health needs of the Northside and is unacceptable. Nor does it address long standing racial disparities and inequities in our state. It's important that we ensure that redevelopment will provide equitable benefits to community members rather than allowing private interests to take the lead and reap the majority of the benefits on publicly-owned property. The design and engagement process for this project has been essentially developer-driven." - Jordan Area Community Council (Read their full letter.)

     
  • “This action will continue to perpetuate the racial disparities in Minneapolis by providing funding to a private majority owned company to build wealth for themselves. The majority of the jobs created by this portion of the project will be minimum wage seasonal employment. No significant living wage jobs which is what the Northside needs will be developed.

    The systemic racism of this approach is blatant. Public policy and funds are being used to provide a private white owner with capital to build a project in a historically dis-invested community primarily to the owners’ benefit. No community wealth will be generated by this project and by community wealth I mean capital that goes directly to the residents of North... Since the founding of this country land has been used to discriminate and subjugate; we have a history of redlining that speaks to this. The Upper Harbor Terminal is continuing this practice of extracting wealth from black and brown communities.

    The opportunity that UHT presents for the community is so much greater than what is currently being proposed. We can develop a project that creates community wealth in North Minneapolis but we can't do it with the current strategy and process in place.”

     
  • “There’s already enough pollution and lack of proper infrastructure to mitigate fossil fuels in our neighborhood. We (African Americans) will not benefit financially and that is a problem considering that we are the most unemployed, and underserved. Take that money and invest it in us!”

     
  • “A year ago, providing 20 million dollars in state bonding to develop a music venue in North Minneapolis that would only provide seasonal part time minimum wage jobs made little sense. Now we’re in the presence of the Covid-19 pandemic which has shown how inequitable our current economic system is. Where Black and Brown people are disproportionately impacted by the virus from a health and economic standpoint. North Minneapolis residents will struggle more now and, in the future, due to the virus. So why would the legislature provide bonding to a project that will not create living wage jobs?

    The proposal for the concert venue continues to support a racist trickle-down economic strategy that will create wealth for the owner of First Avenue with minimal to no real economic impact for residents of North Minneapolis. As we can see jobs in the service, retail, and hospitality industries in the best of times are not enough to provide economic security and are even less so in a crisis… The Upper Harbor project needs a reset to provide the kind of real life changing economic opportunities for Northside residents.”

     
  • “Ya'll done already pushed us to the outskirts of town, intentionally disrupted our community by building 94 through our epicenter, gentrifying our neighborhoods. Leave us alone. Give us autonomy to care for the land/community we live in... we will oppose decisions that are not grounded and supported by our community leaders/the northside community at large.”

Community members will eventually be able to walk to the riverfront, hidden behind the mounds of gravel in the photo above. But will the community benefit as much as it should? 

 

Who benefits?

 

  • “I believe public dollars should be for public goods and this concert venue should be community owned. As a resident of North Minneapolis I want a venue and UHT that serves this community first and foremost. A venue such as the one proposed will not prioritize events for north Minneapolis and its residents.”
     
  • “I live across the freeway from the UHT site. I oppose public bond funds for First Avenue’s concert venue at Upper Harbor Terminal in North Minneapolis because I believe this should be a public park and state funds should not go to enrich a private company. I've lived in the neighborhood for the last 16 years and I'm worried about the increase in property taxes. Just this year, my taxes when up by about 40%. I feel like the state is helping a private company get richer, while those of us on a budget have to face getting pushed out of our homes.

    How is this facility going to benefit the North Side? ...Those of us who live here will have to deal with the increased traffic, noise pollution and litter left behind with nothing but an increased property tax bill in return. We don't want this facility and we don't want the state to pay for it!”
  • “I am concerned about investing taxpayer funds in a project led by a private company that hasn’t given full information regarding:
    • How a large entertainment venue (7,000-10,000 people) will impact North Minneapolis residents and the environment, especially when the neighborhood is already becoming gentrified and long-standing residents are having trouble affording current rent
    • The types of jobs being created and their average wages and hours
    • Who will keep the profits from the venue
    • Whether this project will provide truly equitable community ownership and benefits.”

In the wake of COVID-19, is it wise for the state to help fund the former barge terminal's redevelopment into a venue for 7,000-10,000 people? 

 

Lack of a clear plan

 

  • “There is no evidence or plan to ensure that the Upper Harbor Terminal project plan to develop a state-funded concert venue and worldwide attraction is truly in the best interests of the community. I have attended numerous ‘engagement’ sessions over the last year and there are major red flags and concerns with this project. There have been no concrete plans released regarding this space, and no clear research on the economic and environmental impacts that a 7,000-10,000 person concert venue will have on this region.

    There is also no guarantee or accountability presented to ensure that the housing and jobs created will be by and for north Minneapolis residents who continue to have their voices and representation left out of these conversations. My personal belief is that this project will push our already displaced community members further into the suburbs and funnel even more money into wealthy communities as the gentrification of north Minneapolis continues.

    I know many people love First Avenue, but please do not let their involvement cloud judgment. I believe we can take advantage of this Opportunity Zone AND develop an equitable and environmentally sustainable plan but only with proper engagement and directions from the members of this community. As of this date I do not believe that true community engagement and steering has happened... Investing in this project means investing in the expansion of the North Loop and displacing an already disenfranchised community. Do right by north Minneapolis and its community!”

     
  • “I oppose public bond funds for First Avenue’s concert venue at Upper Harbor Terminal in North Minneapolis because these plans are not complete:
    • It looks like no one has even considered how a sudden increase of that much traffic will impact the surrounding neighborhoods — this amount of activity will spill way beyond the venue itself. Dowling, Washington and Lyndale will gridlock before and after events. What was a safe biking route to downtown will not be viable on concert nights....those streets are not designed to handle that much traffic at once!
    • How does the neighborhood benefit from this in a meaningful employment way? Will there be union labor involved in the building/running of shows?
    • What are the specifics for energy self sufficiency and regenerative landscaping?
    • Given the current state of things — shutdown — let us please wait before spending money/committing to this project. There are just too many unanswered questions about the project.”

"...[T]he park board worked for almost 100 years to acquire land to create the 67-acre North Mississippi Regional Park, displacing many people from their homes in the process. But now, when the city owns 48 acres of inner-city waterfront, it’s being turned over to private, subsidized business? Please, no.”

 

Environmental concerns 

 

  • “I oppose the privatization of this precious publicly-owned land. For years, people in this section of North Minneapolis have had no access to the river, our only waterfront. To be clear, the proposed ‘18 acre park’ is primarily a narrow, mile-long strip that includes the riverbank and paths for walking and biking. The actual park is only 6 to 7 acres in size.

    Minneapolis has a beautiful heritage of parkland along its lakes, creeks and rivers. On the premise that riverfront should be parkland, the park board worked for almost 100 years to acquire land to create the 67-acre North Mississippi Regional Park, displacing many people from their homes in the process. But now, when the city owns 48 acres of inner-city waterfront, it’s being turned over to private, subsidized business? Please, no.”

     
  • “I am so excited to get the UHT project started and have kid-friendly accessibility to the river. I have questions about the First Avenue’s concert venue at Upper Harbor Terminal in North Minneapolis because although I'm interested in the idea of an amphitheater on the river, one of Minneapolis' most precious assets, I am concerned that the proposed size may be too big. I am concerned about the noise it may bring.

    In this whole area of North Minneapolis, noise is a constant aggravation. The highway is a constant hum without enough trees to drown it out, and Lyndale brings loud cars blasting loud music... Are we going to be subject to more loud noises of music and large crowds on a regular basis now too? What I am very excited about for the UHT is an improved bridge over 94 that will make biking or walking to the UHT safer and more inviting with children, access to watch sunrises come up over the river, and increased green space for peaceful recentering when the noise of life gets to be too much. We look forward to enjoying more wildlife.”

Neighbors want community benefits to be clearly defined before state dollars are considered.   

 

Ignoring community input

 

  • "This is not something that I want my tax dollars to go to. Let the community have a meaningful role in the Upper Harbor development in a process they lead. Letting the developer lead this process is only going to benefit the developer and their plan — not my community and their desire for opportunities. I'm tired of vague promises of community benefit later while the folks with money barrel to the head of the line to get public dollars so they can become even more affluent. The City is ramrodding this project through without due process and engagement.”

     
  • “I strongly believe that investment in North Minneapolis is a good thing. At the same time, I oppose public bond funds for First Avenue’s concert venue at Upper Harbor Terminal in North Minneapolis because the community did not ask for an amphitheater. Even more, the Upper Harbor Terminal project has the potential to set a precedent for an equitable and community-centered process and plan. We need to re-start the project from those places, as well as the places of community wealth-building and addressing racial discrepancies. Until then, I'm against using public dollars to subsidize the building of wealth for rich, white corporations.”

     
  • “Failure by the City to incorporate the culture and historical significance of Native and minority people of north Minneapolis is a public ‘slap-in-the-face’ to the people who built this community and continue to live there. The lack of honor and respect for the mighty Mississippi River, its life-giving significance to the Midwest and the United States overall is environmentally foolhardy.”

     
  • “Any publicly-funded projects should be for local community based organizations and not for people who do not live in the district! This is unfair and robs local residents and local businesses of the resources needed so badly!! Time and time again our communities are left out of the process. Please allow the community's welfare to be considered this time!! Do not fund this project.”

     
  • “The plan is incomplete and has not been released to the community for review. It is not approved by City Council and it is not ready for construction. It will be years before this project will put people to work and we need jobs now. In this time of critical need, should the city's top bonding priority be a private concert stadium?...

    Most concerning to me, the community benefits of this project are not clearly defined, even though the project calls for them. The UHT Coordinated Plan has only one fully-formed component: a 7,000-10,000 seat concert stadium right next to the Mississippi. To date, no meaningful plans for career jobs, housing, community ownership, community wealth-building, local food production, parks, open space, or environmental sustainability have been included. Ideas to incorporate indoor farming, sustainable agriculture, and an innovative energy/utility hub have been offered by and asked for by Northsiders since the concept plan was issued in 2018.

    The city has ignored requests for community-based planning that have come from hundreds of citizens. Instead, the city has appointed their own 17-person advisory group for the development team to work with to come up with a coordinated plan. These things concern me.”

Get involved 

Share your concerns about First Avenue's bonding request with our state leaders through this easy form.

Become a River Guardian to hear from us about more opportunities to act when city and state leaders are making important Upper Harbor Terminal and river-related decisions.

For more about Upper Harbor Terminal, follow our UHT Twitter account, check out our blog, or contact Colleen O'Connor Toberman, River Corridor Program Director, at ctoberman@fmr.org or 651-222-2193 x29.