Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

‘Innovation district’ proposed for University Avenue

Cali Owings//July 24, 2015

‘Innovation district’ proposed for University Avenue

Cali Owings//July 24, 2015

Minneapolis and St. Paul are teaming up to create a nearly 280-acre “innovation district” surrounding three light rail stations along University Avenue to better attract jobs and entrepreneurial businesses.

An innovation district is an economic development tool to encourage targeted job growth and redevelopment in the area. It creates an opportunity to jointly plan the area and market it to prospective businesses while also allowing for district-wide approaches to infrastructure.

Under a designation resolution put forward by Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon, innovation refers to the type of entrepreneurial businesses that the district hopes to attract and new approaches to systems like parking, storm water management and energy.

The new status may help the Minneapolis-based Wall Companies attract the tenants it needs to start building a long-planned private research park east of the University of Minnesota campus, known as the Minnesota Innovation Park.

The proposed University Avenue Innovation District, which includes about 20 acres now owned by Wall, would stretch from 23rd Avenue in Minneapolis across the border into St. Paul and up to Highway 280, where there are other potential redevelopment sites on either side of the Green Line route.

Wall’s $1.835 million purchase earlier this month of the 4.34-acre Harris Machinery site at 501 30th Ave. SE will bring the plan for the innovation park closer to reality. The site includes a building the company plans to renovate to bring in tenants sooner, said Jeff Hensley, vice president for the company. With the addition of the new site, the company is rethinking its master plan for the Minnesota Innovation Park, he said.

The innovation district status is expected to help market the area and better leverage partnerships in the neighborhood and throughout the state and region with organizations like Greater MSP and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Hensley said.

While all research parks develop differently, Hensley said it is important to connect the Minnesota Innovation Park with activities outside of its borders.

“We can only survive really if we integrate with the district,” he said.

From Minneapolis’ perspective, the innovation district approach means the city will be willing to stretch the rules of what it would allow, said Gordon, whose ward includes the University of Minnesota and the Prospect Park neighborhood.

The University Avenue Innovation District builds off the work concentrated around Prospect Park Station, where neighborhood representatives, property owners, architects and designers have planned for a sustainable, new “city within a city.” The Prospect Park North partnership sought the innovation district designation to have more flexibility to pursue shared parking systems, district energy and joint storm water management.

“The way it’s working in Prospect Park North is they’re coming up with ideas and asking the city to figure out a way to allow them to do it,” Gordon said.

The boundaries were expanded and the project area was renamed University Avenue Innovation District to include the westernmost part of St. Paul.

St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark, who represents the area, plans to introduce the innovation district proposal in the coming weeks.

It makes sense for the district to extend into St. Paul because there are major opportunity sites and the area is already a big source of jobs and business growth, Stark said. While the area surrounding the Westgate light rail station has seen new housing development, the city would like to keep jobs and businesses there.

The new district approach has the potential to change perceptions about the area and what’s possible, he said.

“It only takes one or two new businesses to spark people’s imaginations about that location,” he said.

The designation may finally create the kind of large-scale redevelopment that has been planned for many years.

“This area of the city has been planned and looked at … it’s also kind of stuck,” Gordon said.

Redevelopment at the Minnesota Innovation Park will have ripples around the district, according to Hensley. While some new development has already occurred with new housing and the $30 million Surly Brewing MSP building adjacent to the innovation park site, the research park won’t be able to fit everything it needs on 20 acres. The rest of the 280-acre district could be home to other relevant businesses, housing, open space, schools and other services.

The first stage of the Minnesota Innovation Park is likely to be the renovation of the existing Harris Machinery building for new tenants. Wall is in talks with three groups about moving to the renovated building, which could open by January, Hensley said. Once the park has an established track record, the group hopes to attract a mix of companies and institutions to a new building.

“If you just build a building and wait for people for come, it will probably be sitting there empty for a long time,” Hensley said.

The park is aiming for a mix of potential users including startups, midsize “growth” companies, established national and international companies, economic development groups and support services. The park would build off research at the University of Minnesota and other educational institutions.

Top News

See All Top News

Legal calendar

Click here to see upcoming Minnesota events

Expert Testimony

See All Expert Testimony