Monday, March 11, 2013

It's a cool time to be at the U

If you haven't checked around the Twin Cities campus lately and noted how cool it is how much is being added, you are really missing out.

It has been cited several times that this is the largest University expansion since the West Bank push in the early 1960's. Among public, private, and institutional development, it all seems to resort back to the area east of downtown Minneapolis.

I started attending the U in the Fall of 2010, which happened to be the last sort-of hurrah for calm around campus. Bob Bruininks was still the president, Maturi & Brewster were tenured faces of athletics, and Washington Avenue had vehicles rushing back and forth like the past 90 years. The only new apartment development was the luxurious Sydney Hall, which - trust me - was all the rage for the first year or two. The Central Corridor Light Rail project seemed to be locked in dead heat against political forces and the University's sustained lawsuit against it. The only large project going on was the interior renovation of Folwell Hall (Oh no, we can't gain access to historic interior renovations? What are we ever going to do?), and projects like the 17th Avenue Residence Hall were not only non-existent, but weren't even on the long range plan set up the year before.

Looking back, 2010 was probably the best year to tour the quaint inter-city University as a high school senior.

Fast forward 3 years - everything, and I mean basically everything, has changed around campus.

The Public

The Green Line (Central Corridor) is still slated to open in 2014, and will change the environment of the University forever. It is hard to put into words how important the block between Harvard & Walnut Avenues will be, as no vehicles are allowed, but businesses still front the transit corridor. This will be the second pedestrian mall in the city, after Nicollet downtown.

Other than the light rail, other projects have already impacted the environment of the campus altogether. With buses being re-routed to Pleasant Street, the green-painted bike lanes have given riders a safer, if not less assuring lane to resort to. After the tragic bike accident in 2011, both the City of Minneapolis and the U have heightened awareness for proper biking techniques, and have installed the infrastructure for its success. Although the biking numbers around the city have actually slightly declined since 2010, the number of bikers recorded on 15th Ave SE have gone from 1,935 to 2,012 bikers per day, according to Bike Walk Twin Cities.

The Private

I would like to nominate the phrase "luxury apartments" as the phrase of the first half of the 2010's decade. I mean, seriously, holy crap. The private development around campus in the last two years has been nuts, especially considering that these highly-priced buildings are aimed at relatively low-income students (Thank you, public loans & parents from Wayzata!)

*On a side note, I have nothing against Wayzata. Honestly. I empathize with you guys a little actually.

Since Sydney Hall opened in the fall of 2010, there have been a whopping 5 significant apartment buildings constructed near campus: 412 Lofts, Solhaus & Solhaus Tower, Stadium Village Flats, and The Edge.

There are currently 5 complexes currently under construction: The Elysian, The Knoll, 7West, the controversial UTEC Site Development and The Station on Washington. Also, there is a smaller townhome-like development called The Cluster on 4th Street.

Most importantly, the biggest are yet to come. The Bridges and WaHu are planned and set to go. Both will be 11 stories, but will importantly break that 6-story stick frame limit. This tells me that the other apartments are doing well enough to take larger risks and build nicer buildings with steel & concrete frames. That is fantastic.

To be honest, these developments are not my cup of tea as far as living situation, but I love the fact that a good number of deep-pocketed developers are taking a chance on their city and on their University. I love the fact that Minneapolis is growing to be an actual city, rather than a large suburb with shiny toothpicks sticking out near the Hennepin Bridge. These will contribute to the street life, they will promote living near campus instead of commuting from Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie, they will eventually help the businesses of Dinkytown and Stadium Village by contributing sidewalk traffic instead of park-and-shop, they will hopefully

P.S... Can I have the job of naming these things? I have some ideas up my sleeve: The Dash, The Pew, The Swag, The Swoop, The Hangover, The Stumblehome, The Backwardsflathatwearingd*****bag. "Hey man, don't forget to check out the party at QX7TL Lofts! It's sicknasty!"


Complain about the University you may, but you can't deny that they aren't building and renovating cool stuff right now. There are hundreds of projects going on at the U and the coordinate campuses right now, ranging from brand new classroom buildings to research lab renovations to re-roofing West Bank buildings.

In 2010, STSS was the star child of the year, with its glitzy perimeter facing the river and modern classroom formats. The campus will see more of it with the arrival of the Physics and Nanotechnology Building when it opens in November. The Rec Center Addition will feature an indoor track and thousands of added workout space, as well as a fireplace and a cafeteria. (Necessary? Not really. Awesome? Yeah.) The 17th Ave Residence Hall will open in the Fall, and will add much needed new dorm space for incoming freshman. I am glad to see that it was built very well, because it will probably take over Territorial Hall's party reputation after the first home football game in September. Nonetheless, the dining hall looks like it is going to be very nice, and the rooms themselves are set up in a more communal, less hallway-corridor-like way.

The Cancer-Cardiovascular Building north of TCF Bank Stadium will open this summer and will offer medical and biology researchers alike new facilities to conduct their work. On top of this, the planned private Research Park to the east of the stadium would provide an academic and economic support system for these researchers and aspiring students.

Finally, the renovations of building close to my heart will finish around the time the Green Line opens. The historic Northrop Auditorium has been gutted and is being reconfigured to host academic space and the U's Honors Program main office. Although the auditorium capacity is reduced, the architecturally-pleasant lobby area will hopefully be salvaged. Also, with Physics & Nano opening soon, a renovation of Tate Lab will hopefully begin soon. Other renovations either planned or currently under way include the St. Anthony Lab near the Pillsbury A-Mill, and Eddy Hall, the oldest building on campus. (Sorry, Old Main. You tried.)

Wrap it up

All in all, the new construction on campus tells me people are ready to invest in this type of work once again. Bike support is constantly growing, the light rail is going in, and apartments are being built at the same rate they are filling up. The University is battling criticism left and right, but still maintaining high standards of construction and facilities maintenance. The consistent growth pattern in the last 2-3 years has been extremely promising, as it not only reflects the individual investments of said parties, but also illustrates the improving economy as a whole.

So, the next time you complain about all the construction on campus, just remember that this place will look great in a year and a half. (Sorry for everyone graduating next May. Don't worry, I'm included in that group too.)

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Definitely an exciting time to be at the U.