BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Is Uptown … political?
There are several different takes on what’s going on with Uptown and Hennepin Avenue south of downtown. Psychically, Hennepin seems to lie upon a political fault line in Minneapolis. Or that’s what you might think if you read Minneapolis “Left” Twitter (which, for my sins, I do).
The Star Tribune wrote a perfectly factual account of the “decline” of Uptown and its possible, hopeful, current resurrection. The article (see the March 24 piece by Nicole Norfleet) related the history of Uptown from approximately the late 1970s until now and noted how its upward trend into gentrification never really panned out. Without discussing it much, it vaguely alluded to that old conundrum: do plywood-covered windows and empty storefronts lead to crime, or vice versa? And it predicted a comeback by the route of returning to roots – bohemian values, artists, small local businesses, denser housing. And I think that’s all fine.
Still this anodyne piece was virulently attacked on Twitter. The main charge was that it didn’t mention the police murder of Winston Smith in 2021. I can understand the frustration about that shameful event. As one tweet proclaimed: “Hey everyone, remember when the Star Tribune falsely called Winston Smith a murder suspect so that they could paper-over his assassination and keep serving Uptown business interests? They won the Pulitzer Prize that year.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I also call Winston Smith’s death a murder or assassination. I also blame the police, and think the mainstream media in general (not just our paper of record) distorted the news to shore up their coverup/damage control, and that was bad. (And what others may forget is that a protester was deliberately run down by a car and died.) The whole episode was a nightmare within a nightmare. But does that mean every cub reporter who writes anything about Uptown forever more has to reverently namecheck Smith? Actually, no. Let’s get a grip and focus on the subject at hand.
Hennepin South reconstruction, Seven Points, and transit
What I was surprised to see left out of the aforementioned article was the thing that was exercising Minneapolis Twitter over a year ago – the Hennepin Avenue South reconstruction plan, a city-planned improvement project that ended up pitting millennials, bikers and disability advocates against small business owners and automobile lovers. Not that I think the plan, which will enter the construction phase in mid-2024 if all goes well, is responsible for the Uptown decline from roughly 2018 to now, but that one should not speculate on what will “bring Uptown back” without taking it into consideration.
After two years of community engagement, the plan for reconstruction unveiled in 2022 will eliminate some on-street parking on Hennepin Avenue, which comprises about 10% of the total area parking. In return, the street redesign will eliminate major danger zones for cars, bikes and pedestrians, and add dedicated bus lanes and stations for a new bus rapid transit (BRT) route. See minnpost.com/community-voices/2022/01/new-hennepin-avenue-redesign-is-a-major-step-forward/ for a good summary of the plan’s pluses and minuses.
Another piece of the Uptown puzzle this article doesn’t get quite right is the Seven Points piece. It mentions “the former Calhoun Square” near the top, then concludes with some current information on “the Seven Points retail complex,” but never clarifies that these are the same property.
A tweet from the MSP BizJournal in November 2019 records the transaction at the time: “Chicago-based Northpond Partners has purchased Calhoun Square for $34.5 million, half of what the former owners paid for the Uptown Minneapolis shopping center in 2014.” So clearly the decline in retail fortunes began well before the pandemic.
Things to celebrate or be hopeful about
There are some really good things happening on and around Hennepin that signal a hopeful future. One of them is the transformation and renaming of the former Jefferson Community School. In 2021-22, the Pre-K through grade 8 school at 1200 W. 26th St. was both transformed into a “Global Studies and Humanities Magnet” open to all students in the city, but also in a year-long study followed by a vote and approval by the school board, changed its name from Jefferson to Ella Baker.
Another good thing is that well-regarded new restaurants keep opening, and well-regarded older restaurants are staying (e.g., Ann Kim, as quoted in the Strib article). One new restaurant to the area is the fourth location of Boludo, a trending eatery specializing in Argentinian food and wine, including pizza and empanadas.
A big one is the return of entertainment. There are three former film theaters within a block of each other around Hennepin and Lagoon Avenues – the Lagoon Cinema (still a film theater), the Granada (a live entertainment dinner theater now), and the Uptown Theater (shortly to reopen as a venue for live music, comedy shows, meetings, speakers, plays, corporate events and more). Another live music venue, also located at Hennepin and Lagoon, is called Green Room. It opened earlier this year as a space that welcomes all music genres, bands and artists.
The Lagoon has five screens and offers a mix of first-run and independent films. Upcoming showings of interest include “The Lost King” (a dramatic true story about Phillipa Langley, amateur historian who discovered the burial site of late medieval King Richard III) and “How To Blow Up A Pipeline” (not a documentary, but a drama about blowing up pipelines).
The Granada’s very popular Candlelit events are candlelight dinner concerts featuring diverse musical acts such as jazz, light classical or romantic pop favorites, as well as offerings such as sci-fi and fantasy film scores. They host a wide range of other events, too, from Latin dance nights with salsa dancing to a live orchestra, to hip-hop artists, to flamenco ballet, plus galas such as the Queer Space 2nd Annual Birthday Bash on April 26. The Granada can also be booked for private parties and events. See their full calendar at granadampls.com.
The revived Uptown Theater has had a preview concert or two but will have its official opening at a Kickoff Party with Yam Haus on June 10. Four more acts are booked for June so far, two hip-hop and two rock. The venue is currently owned by Swervo entertainment, which also owns the Armory in downtown Minneapolis. Tickets are available now for the June performances.