Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hawkman's Different Angle on the BJ's Proposal

Commentary post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, photo by Johnny Northside

After reading a previous post about potential development at the BJ's site and the developer's requests for multiple variances, I have my own reaction to the proposal. Those reactions wouldn't fit well under a comment section, so they get their own blog post.

I should note that my personal position as a resident of north Minneapolis is different than what has been articulated. For instance...

...I don't consider BJ's to be a "problem property" or "problem business" in the way that such places have been defined on this blog. They operate legally, with the proper licenses, and whatever happens there stays there. I haven't seen illegal activities coming and going from the place. (Unlike Absolute Tire across the street, where residents have reported drug dealing taking place among the patrons on site.) It's kind of like our own version of Las Vegas. A cheaper, far less glamorous Las Vegas.

My only issue with BJ's is that I do not want a strip club to be located in a gateway to north Minneapolis. I don't care if it's a "gentleman's club" or some supposedly higher class of strippers and clientele, this corner is the wrong place for such a business precisely because of the impression it leaves on people passing by.

Also, I really, REALLY want to see a Surdyk's-style liquor store and a French Meadows-style restaurant/bakery on the site. I absolutely love those two places and would be proud to claim them as part of my community - especially Surdyk's, one of the few places that carries bison grass vodka.


I added the "-style" suffix because at this time I don't believe either Surdyk's or French Meadows has committed to relocating or expanding to this site. Those are only two POSSIBLE tenants (or styles of tenants) that have been bandied about.

The current proposal asks for far too much in the way of variances and exceptions from the West Broadway Alive plan. Page six of the staff report states that the "building on this block face, at 201 West Broadway, is a single story office building. Allowing this pattern to continue would create a development pattern that is not consistent with the policy for this area."

Given Master Construction's ties to 201 West Broadway and the proposal in question, giving them leeway to construct a one-story building on the first new construction after the implementation of a comprehensive plan would smack of insider baseball politics. And there definitely needs to be more curb appeal for the side of the building facing West Broadway.

Regarding the request for a one-story variance, the staff report goes on to state: "Furthermore, the proposed single-story building results in an underutilization of the site....Underdeveloped sites are detrimental to the long-term vitality of West Broadway. Low intensity commercial developments spread the commercial district and increase the distance between commercial establishments. This makes the commercial district less attractive because it is not as convenient to come to the district and pick up goods and services from multiple businesses. For this reason, mechanisms should be put in place to deter new low intensity development, and particularly single story commercial developments." (emphasis mine)

One of the reasons the proposal has requested such a variance was because of their claim to need more parking spaces than the bare minimum. While they are significantly below the maximum number of parking spaces allowed, the staff report makes it clear that they have the option of reducing some parking to create a two-story structure that complies with the West Broadway Alive plan.

While we ought to vigorously defend the WBA Plan, I do think there is room for some degree of flexibility here. However, I agree with the staff report that this is a new construction proposal, so the requested variances are entirely of the making of Land Ho - not based on pre-existing conditions. And although I would not want to corner a developer into a plan with little chance of success, I'm not yet convinced that their proposed differences from the Plan are necessary.

There is a very real danger in deviating too far from the original plan. The sentiment for allowing variances at this site appears to stem largely from the hope that we can transform BJ's into something as cool as a French Meadows/Surdyk's combination. But now that the world's largest YWCA isn't coming to Broadway, we need proposals for what to do along Broadway and Aldrich. Who knows what the current or eventual owners will propose for that vacant lot now? What if it's a one-story fried food shack/payday loan/stolen cell phone/used furniture/dice-throwing strip mall, modeled to be consistent with both Hawthorn Crossings and the exceptions granted to Land Ho?

The criteria that the city uses to grant or deny such variance requests can rarely (if ever) take into account that some people like one business but not another. They can, and often must, consider similar variances granted elsewhere. Olympic Cafe's expanded hours is a very recent example of exactly that. If we weaken the West Broadway Alive plan right out of the gates, the whole thing risks being shot to sunshine.

The Land Ho proposal also has major shortfalls in the area of landscaping. I'd go into more detail about that, but this post is already dry enough. Still that's just one more area where this could use more improvement.

The other potentially significant concern with the proposal as I read it is the emphasis of "North Loop" over "Near North" or north Minneapolis as the community identifier. North Loop references outnumber north Minneapolis references at a rate of 11 to 1.

The North Loop neighborhood is just as far away from the site as the St. Anthony East neighborhood. Why not call the project the St. Anthony East gateway while we're at it?

For those readers whose sensibilities are so offended by the presence of BJ's that you want just about ANYTHING different at the site, I submit that the designation of the proposal as the "North Loop Gateway" should be downright offensive. We in north Minneapolis have endured the blight of BJ's for DECADES. And now, just as something truly exciting comes along, something that will quite literally change the face of our community, the project is named after a neighborhood several blocks away. NOT ACCEPTABLE. Even "Ya Baby" is better than this.

If "North Loop Gateway" appears only on some site plans that hardly anybody will read five years from now, then this is really a non-issue. But if the design of the building (and any signage) points people away from north Minneapolis and towards other neighborhoods, that's when we need to stand up and demand that our community receive our share of the benefits such an exciting development will bring.

I want to see BJ's replaced with the proposed businesses, and I hope Land Ho and Master Construction continue with their plan. However, based on the proposal put forward, and my understanding of it, I cannot support it at this time. We deserve better in NoMi.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more Hawkman. The WBA plan is vital to NoMi and we need to make sure it is followed not ignored.

We might as well put it on the shelf if we're going to disregard it from the word "GO".

Johnny Northside! said...

Even though I'd be in favor of a TACO STAND if it replaced BJ's, I wouldn't be in favor of a situation like Merwins Liquor. DESPITE the improvement represented by the "butt fence," there is still a lot of loitering in that area. This is hardly surprising, given the way Merwins goes out of its way to sell the kind of items demanded by the chronic inebriate market, like cheap fortified wine.

Anonymous said...

Snore. Snore. Snore.

Too dry is right.

And too long.

I can barely read Jeff's posts; they are just too boring and annoyingly braggadocious. Not like John's writing which is funny, entertaining and, certainly, braggadocious.

Johnny Northside! said...

That snoring sound is coming from under a bridge, because it's coming from a TROLL.

emma. said...

i agree with hawkman and anon 7:02 mostly because this is the first proposal under the new WBA plan. the first proposal cannot be allowed to deviate from the plan. that's just starting off on the wrong foot and rather disrespectful to the plan and the neighborhood, in my opinion.

i would love for BJ's to be replaced, and by the proposed type of businesses is alright with me, but only if complying with all of the guidelines of the WBA plan. that's why there's a plan...

Hans said...

I love the way Jeff is able to articulate his arguments. It might take a few minutes to read but some things just can't be rushed through without sacrificing quality.

Keep up the good work...

Anonymous said...

Absolute Tire sales stolen shtuff. My friends car broke down on the freeway and to make a long story short his rims and beats showed up at.... you guessed it! FOR SALE at Absolute Tire.

Cpt. Jack Sparrow

Trudrud said...

I'm with you on this one, Hawkman. Of all the places where we could be lax with the plan/goal we set out for North, this is THE one location where we absolutely should not compromise. Think about it -this is the spot where our businesses along West Broadway pick up again after being cut off by interstate 94. This is the spot where West Broadway leads to one of our few natural amenities, the Mississippi river. If anything is built in this spot, it should be something that serves to reestablish the link that was lost when 94 severed Northside from it's water feature and created a perceptive dividing line between Northside and the rest of the city.
I'm not willing to go along with anything less than the vision set out by the West Broadway Alive plan, because I am not willing to risk falling for a bait and switch that would leave us with Hawthorn(e) Crossings 2.0 (complete with a liquor store that will more than likely sell more 40's than stinky cheese). If we settle on this, we should just go ahead and put up a sign near Broadway and Lyndale that says "Follow the trail of wino vomit and empty liquor bottles strewn across the ground to the new and improved gateway to the NORTH LOOP".

AKL said...

Is it possible that the developer focused on the North Loop area as its identifier because the people who live in North Loop are more affluent and therefore more likely to use a Surdyk's style liquor store and/or French Meadow's style bakery?

Before people start throwing things, I would just remind folks that Kowalski's moved into a grocery store space in Webber Camden several years ago and the business failed in about a year. The moral of the story is that NoMi is still a very working class neighborhood (although there are some changes happening). What is the percentage of people in Hawthorne who are willing (and able) to spend $4.00 for a loaf of bread (or two or three) each week? What is the percentage of people living in North Loop who could, and would, do so?

To put the best (and very possibly Pollyanna) face on things, it is possible that the developer was using North Loop as a hook to market the viability of the business plan, both to the city and to the proposed tenants of the space.

This really is the negotiation stage of the planning process. Rather than "us vs. them" we should realize that North Loop (and Northeast for that matter), and it's business and residents are an economic asset to the community and will help pave the way to the kind of developmet we want here.

I am not in favor of a single story structure. I think that it should be two stories because it has the potential to be a distinctive hub and a gateway to both NoMi and North Loop due to it's location. For that matter, it could be a gateway to Northeast, as traffic heads over the river. (Kidding. Sort of.)

This is a vital piece of commercial property, and it is appropriate to tell the developers that they need a plan that will be appropriate for 2010, 2020 and 2040.


Anonymous said...

Very well said AKL. Thank you.

It's a 3-way gateway - To northside, to north loop, to northeast.. depending on which direction someone is traveling.

The new word on the street is the developer is already conceding to some of the concerns, like the two stories. (And it's not because of this blog, that was the word before this blog covered the issue.)

This is very promising.

NoMi Neighbor said...

I do believe that if this development includes the sort of tenants indicated, they would do well to market to North Loop residents *as well as* Northside residents.

Why should it have to be one or the other? Both sides can be recognized.

And, until I get a suitable bread stone and perhaps a better oven, I am one of those people who will pay $3-4 for a loaf of good bread. Particularly BAGUETTES! (Please God, give me some other place to go besides Byerly's...)

AKL said...

I can also afford to pay $4.00 for a loaf of bread, and would love to support a local business in my area. But, my concern is that right now, there are not enough people in NoMi alone to support a higher end bakery. That is where taking into consideration the residents of Northeast and North Loop makes great economic sense.

Another reason to encourage looking at NoMi as a working part of a trifecta with North Loop and Northeast at an early stage of redevlopment is to encourage more movement and commerce among these neighborhoods. NoMi has been isolated from other neighborhoods for geographic, economic and racial reasons for generations. Breaking down those barriers will lead to greater economic opportunities for everyone in NoMi. This is a gateway development project and has great potential.


General Disarray said...

And Wuollet bakery in Robbinsdale. Its a great place but over priced ... I just go for the girls that work there... such sweethearts.

I would like a place like Surdyk's over here but I do not want the treatment that I would receive at the original. We need our own place.... Where EVERYONE will be treated with respect and have good prices and quality booze!!

Anonymous said...

I'd be shocked if French Meadow follows through with this location anytime in the near future. They had purchased the Rex hardware building across from their Lyndale location, but sold it due to the downturn of the economy--even though this now puts this vintage brick building (their across the street neighbor) in danger of being demolished. (The hardware building was recently denied status as a historic landmark.)

If this Lyndale project, which is very near and dear to their hearts, has fallen through, it's hard for me to imagine that they are in a position to take on a whole different project up on Broadway, far from their home base of operations.

As a neighborhood, we need to stop jumping every time a possibility is dangled in front of us, and stick to our long-term plans.

la_vie_en_rose said...

Thanks for mentioning that bakery, Eyedea! I would have never known about it otherwise! Those tortes look delicious.

MikeT said...

I think we are all enriched by the BJ's Experience -- co-mingling with people of a sub-culture we frequently ignore. We are all a richer, more diversified community when we take the time to stop in, say hi, and soak in the ambiance of this little slice of America.

Next time you drive by, take the time to stop, leave your judgementalism at the door, mosey on in and be prepared to meet some of the warmest, friendliest, nakedest people you ever met.

Don't forget to tip!

King Minos, who pees in his toilet, said...

Jeff ends his post by saying: "We deserve better in NoMi."

Do we? Seriously? Some of us might. Some of us probably do. We obey the law. We pick up garbage. We try to shop locally. We watch. We call. We mow our grass. We mow our neighbors' grass. We fight against any number of things that need fighting against. We don't shoot people. We don't shoot smack. We don't smoke crack. We don't sell crack. We don't look at crack. We pick up our dog's shit. We don't shit in the street. We don't piss in our yards. We don't speed through the streets. We don't pump up the volume. We don't forget that we have kids to care for and raise. We vote. We pay our taxes. We call 3-1-1. We have attended vigils until vigils have become irrelevant. We mobilize. We criticize. We revitalize. We take pride in our neighborhood and we give as good, or better than we get. Perhaps we do deserve better.

BUT... we are still the minority.

There is still a large and visible contingent of the NoMi population that does none of the things that I just mentioned. Instead, they do many of the opposite things. These people are real people, and their BEHAVIOR causes real problems for our City and our society. It would be great if each one of them would change, if each one of them would be free from addiction, learn how to manage their anger, learn how to work, learn how to have pride, self respect, and respect for others. It would be great if they would learn how to be parents, or even better if they would learn how to use birth control until they found themselves ready to raise healthy, respectful, children. It would be great if the entire population of NoMi were as productive as some of us are.
Unfortunately that is not the case. The unproductive elements are many in number and cost the City and the State, Feds, and NGOs a ton of money to manage, support, and just plain deal with.

If whatever Midas touches turns to gold, whatever these assholes touch turns to shit. They are the human manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics. They have guns but they aren't smart enough to know how to use them. So they kill each other, and innocent bystanders. They destroy. They wallow. They take advantage. They suck, and keep sucking. They bring nothing. They take everything.

Can you honestly say they deserve better?
I cannot.

The North Loop is a goldmine.
Until we in NoMi make our neighborhood a more productive, safer, cleaner, healthier neighborhood, the City is right to emphasize the North Loop over NoMi.

NoMi is fortunate to be a Gateway to the North Loop.

Johnny Northside said...

Wow. What a comment.

All I want to say in response is I think the negative element you reference is not a majority, but a minority of the population in North Minneapolis.

But their behavior has such an impact, it seems like they are more numerous.

Furthermore, I believe even a small number of ultra-involved "super citizens" can turn the tide against this negative element.

Johnny Northside said...

Also, did you actually mean "King Midas?"

I don't see what you mean by "King Minos," though I looked up the legend of King Minos.

Johnny Northside said...

Oh, I see...

You wrote "Minos" in the title, but "Midas" in the blog post.

OK, well, I learned something about Minos...

King Minos, who pees in his toilet, said...

I believe we can win this war, but winning definitely requires displacing the misbehavers.

I believe that by making it difficult for them to operate, they will be driven away.

Development of surrounding neighborhoods should not pause to wait for us.

King Minos, of Crete, introduced indoor plumbing to Western Civilization.

NoMi Passenger said...

"Wow, what a comment is right"

King Minos you hit some nails on the head and seem to articulate what many of us think about and feel. Sometimes it seems like we are living in the land of the lawless.

I often think about all these underclass citizens & I think what we see here in NoMi is just a drop in the bucket. There are hundreds of "NoMis" around the country where underclass citizens are doing the sucking & creating the shit that you articulate. {Note: when I say underclass I do not mean they DESERVE to be underclass, I say they are CHOOSING to be underclass, therefore it's chosen/learned behavior which is not discrimination}.

What do we do about the underclass who are sucking the life out of our cities? Out of our country?

I say the first thing that needs to happen is it needs to be named, described/defined, and acknowledged. That, to me, is the first step in addressing and correcting a dysfunction.

What I mean is, if there is a hole in the floor and you cover it with a rug and walk around it, you can't even begin to fix the hole until you uncover it and say "look, there is a hole in the floor" - only then can you start to fix it.

Also, to what John says about the underclass being the minority, I would say it seems as if maybe there is more a three way split here in NoMi. It's like the troublemakers making the community a violent, dangerous, unpleasant, dirty, blighted area; the folks in the middle who aren't contributing to the blight and dysfunction but also aren't contributing to the clean up and advancement; and then the folks we refer to as revitalizers who are active in various different ways to advance the community to a safer, cleaner, healthier, more pleasant and enjoyable community.

Obviously we need to figure out how to reach that middle segment and recruit them to being active and involved in revitalization.

Anonymous said...

The History of Plumbing; Toilets

Jeff Skrenes said...

I have so many issues with the Minos/Midas comment. Instead of burning up a lot of time and energy around that, I'll stick to one point.

Let's assume the king is correct here. He still offers no solutions as to how one might transform NoMi into the community deserving of its own claim to an exciting business that happens to be in our neighborhood.

Even if he's right, AND I STRONGLY STATE THAT HE IS NOT, one of the very ways we turn around north Minneapolis is by identifying great new opportunities such as this with our community.

King Minos, who pees in his toilet, said...

I believe that because of a glitch in comment approval process, the Hawkman wrote his 11:17a.m. post prior to seeing my post at 10:44 a.m.

Hawkman, I respect your work, and your perspective, but sometimes I think you are too diplomatic. At the same time, diplomacy is one of your strengths, and your job requires it.

Your creativity when dealing with these issues is also one of your strengths.

BUT... I'm not sure the NoMi chip on your shoulder serves you well.
I tend to whince any time I hear Northsiders complain that they are being left out, overlooked or ignored by the City and/or its service providers.

I maintain that the Northside brings it on itself (see my previous post at 10:22a.m.).

My solution, is to drive out the 'members' of our community who for whatever reason are unable to behave up to the standards required by a civilized society.
Our society manifests its standards through its laws.

For those who accuse people who post on this blog of desiring to displace 'members' of the present population in the name of revitalization, I say "You are damn right, at least as far as I'm concerned."
If you refuse to live with the rest of us in peace, and in obedience to the laws established by our socieity, HIT THE ROAD. You are not welcome in my neighborhood.

That is the central battle we must fight in NoMi. Until we show clear evidence of winning the battle from within. We cannot expect, and certainly cannot demand, that the City refocus otherwise profitable and promising development objectives in any direction other than that which is most econmically feasible and beneficial to the City as a whole.

Folwell Fox said...

Hawkman. Like my European History, Smith College grad. wife always tells me; pro intellectual geeks are too often ignored in today's society. Brilliant article. It gives me more of a blue-veined-belly-slapper than BJ's ever did!

Anonymous said...

Presumptuous Hawkman.Even if he is right?You seem to have the answers, Hawkman, that you are sure others do'nt have.YOU strongly STATE that the mans views are wrong and he has none of his own.I will tell you what he does have.The hammer hitting the nail head on.I am trying to be nice here.Why? Boat kind of gets peeved when some criticize others because they have a different way of STATING issues.The King Of Minos who pees in his toilet tells it cut and dry.Zero Tolerance,Hawkman, that's all.I commend you anyhow because your heart is in the right place and you are on our side.SAME TEAM.Maintain your A-Game,Hawk,we all have too!

King Minos, who pees in his toilet, said...

From this weeks 4th Precinct Highlights:

Assault 2/w a Dangerous Weapon
Broadway Ave W & River Rd N Sunday 7/4/10 2230 hrs 10-196958
Officer arrived at the hospital to take a shooting report. V1/WM, 35 yrs, flagged down a Park Agent at the time, thinking he had been hit by fireworks at the above location. When EMS arrived, they found V1 had been shot & he was transported to the hospital. The round entered V1’s upper right back & lodged in his right side, but did not hit any vital organs. The wound was non-life threatening. Earlier, V1, & his fiancĂ©, OT1/WF, 33 yrs, had been biking on the bike patch in this area when a car full of people yelled that bikers should get off the road. This same vehicle rode past V1 again, yelling obscenities at him. After that, V1 bent over in pain. Suspect vehicle GOA. No suspect info.

For those of you who can't understand all the police shorthand...
A guy riding his bike on the West River Road in North Mpls was shot by assoholes in a car.

Anyone who argues for anything short of displacing the segment of North Minneapolis population that allows behavior such as this to continue is out of their mind.

Oh wait! Lay it on me. Tell me how I have no evidence that the shooters were from North Minneapolis. I can't wait to hear from you. Be sure to tell me, passionately, how this type of behavior could have taken place anywhere in Minneapolis. Tell me how this might be the work of some crazed group of anti-bicyclists who just as easily could have perpetrated this act on the southside of Lake Harriet.

Safety First, and that's all there is to it.

Ariadne said...

You tell 'em, daddy-O.

NoMi Passenger said...

King Minos and Boathead - please write more! Seriously! You two should start your own blog! Or come be writers on my blog! I'd love to have you on board!

Patrick said...

I agree with Megan, especially about Boathead.

I can't imagine what kind of existence he has in real life, but it must be fascinating.