Editor’s note: This story from the quarterly Star Tribune Magazine was printed before the coronavirus pandemic reached Minnesota. Before visiting places mentioned, please check to make sure they are open, and be aware that other details may have changed.
Not so long ago, Minneapolis’ North Loop was a charmless warehouse district that sat, largely ignored, on the edge of downtown. These days, it boasts superstar chefs, cool coffee shops and historic brick and timber buildings converted into chic boutiques and inviting lofts. Similarly, St. Paul’s Lowertown rose from a grungy past to become a coveted spot to live and visit, with an array of restaurants, music in Mears Park and baseball at CHS Field.
These neighborhoods are proof that neglected urban outposts can and do transform, drawing a new generation of residents and visitors to their vibrant centers.
But what will be the next North Loop or Lowertown? Which neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul are on the cusp of change? History says follow the artists, writers and designers to the places where rents are cheap and the hipster factor is high. But today’s urban pioneers seem to have other priorities, including the size of their carbon footprint and where to gather with friends for craft food and drink. Perhaps the latest bellwethers for up-and-coming neighborhoods are easy access to coffee, beer and public transportation.
Here’s another clue: Follow the money — from city coffers that promise grants and loans to jump-start urban revitalization, and from the pockets of big-city developers building luxury apartments with pet spas and maker’s rooms.
There’s no science — and no guarantees — when it comes to predicting a neighborhood turnaround. And there’s often a downside for longtime residents as housing costs and taxes rise. But here’s what’s clear: By the time gourmet grocery stores and coffee chains take root, it’s too late for bargain housing hunters. Studies show that homes near a Starbucks appreciate significantly compared with those not located near the chain — it’s called the Frappuccino Effect. Really.
We studied five communities at different phases of change, but headed toward a common future, including revitalized housing and amenities. From the cultural attractions of the Mill District in Minneapolis to a bevy of breweries in St. Paul’s West Seventh neighborhood, these urban upstarts are on the rise.
St. Paul’s Midway (aka Hamline-Midway) is a working-class neighborhood that grew up around a patchwork of industrial buildings. Once shuttered, these old warehouses and shops are being snapped up by investors and converted to work space for creative types, startups and nonprofits. Case in point: A sprawling old Spam can factory, now called the Prior Works building, is a trendy destination. Like others, it’s within walking distance of the Green Line light rail linking Minneapolis and St. Paul. The new Allianz Field, home to the Minnesota United soccer team, is also stimulating development and bringing new energy.
Modest houses built for factory workers in the early 20th century make for a stock of fixer-uppers that are cheap compared with the rest of the metro, where the median home price last year hit a record $280,000. The Green Line has brought real estate speculators to the area and they’ve bought empty lots and underused buildings, creating a new pool of rentals that cost less than those in downtown Minneapolis and the nearby University of Minnesota. On the drawing board: A 137-unit building planned for a site that once housed a Furniture Barn store near Snelling and University avenues, and a 160-unit apartment building that’ll be built across from Allianz Field. Another developer is looking to build 279 income-restricted units along the Green Line. Change is happening fast, with rents and home prices on the rise, so people wanting to buy in should act fast or risk being priced out.
Watching the Loons at Allianz Field is a natural. Can Can Wonderland in the Prior Works building offers artist-inspired mini golf, along with boozy slushies, local brews and themed eats. Prior Works is also home to FlannelJax’s, where you can master the art of ax throwing and logrolling; BlackStack Brewing; True Stone Coffee Roasters, and a branch of the Minnesota Tool Library. Across from Prior Works, you’ll find the Celtic Junction Arts Center, called the best cultural center in North America by IrishCentral in 2018. And there’s more fun to come, as tenants are still being courted for a repurposed 300,000 square-foot former nut factory.
Shopping and eating
There’s a growing community of artists and “makers” here who host regular hours or pop-ups. Hungry? It’s possible to circumnavigate the globe — exploring the flavors of Thailand, Greece, Ethiopia, red-sauce Italy and many points beyond — while remaining on or near University Avenue. The neighborhood’s most impressive coffeehouse, a branch of Dogwood Coffee, offers fascinating views into Studio On Fire’s letterpress printing operations. Newcomer Eureka Compass Vegan Food, one of the country’s only vegan bodegas, opened in 2018 in a humble storefront that anchors the otherwise sleepy corner of Aldine Street and Lafond Avenue. Chef and Midway resident Colin Anderson has used his vegan croissants, both savory and sweet, to develop a rabidly loyal following. But he also offers an ever-changing quick-service menu (tacos, soups, sandwiches) and stocks frozen foods, earth-friendly toiletries and a decent supply of plant-based snacks, groceries and ingredients. Stay tuned: Several key redevelopment parcels are in play and restaurants and retail are high on the to-do lists.
One of the oldest neighborhoods in the Twin Cities flanks W. 7th Street, a busy four-lane avenue that parallels the Mississippi River as it cuts through St. Paul. Both sides of this onetime streetcar route are lined with historic storefront buildings, many built in the late 1800s when the fortresslike Schmidt Brewery was a North American giant. European immigrants who worked at the brewery settled in simple houses nearby. The brewery stopped making beer in 2002, but the complex has been converted to housing and retail, sparking a neighborhood revival.
There’s a range of options. The $120 million Schmidt renovation included 160 artist lofts. Then there’s the stock of mostly modest (and still relatively inexpensive) brewery worker housing, attractive to people priced out of expensive St. Paul neighborhoods like Mac-Groveland and Highland Park. Near the Seven Corners intersection, there are pockets of stately, historic and expensive mini-manses and row houses clustered around Irvine Park. Most of the housing is more than a century old, so no matter the price point, there are lots of fixer-uppers in the mix. Renters with modern taste and bigger budgets will find more than a dozen mixed-use developments that have replaced vacant and obsolete storefronts. That includes the Oxbo at the corner of W. 7th and Chestnut streets, with apartments atop New Bohemia Wurst & BierHaus. There’s a long list of new development in the works, including the nearly 3-acre Seven Corners Gateway project, which will include rentals, a hotel and a public plaza.
The Science Museum of Minnesota, Xcel Energy Center and RiverCentre are all within walking distance. Like biking? There are world-class riverfront parks and trails within pedaling distance, including Harriet Island.
Shopping and eating
West Seventh has evolved into an eating and drinking epicenter. A host of Capital City dining institutions — Mancini’s, DeGidio’s, Patrick McGovern’s Pub, a remade Cossetta and the Day by Day Cafe — have been joined by a bevy of new favorites, including Parlour, Hope Breakfast Bar, Pajarito and the Seventh Street Truck Park. The corridor draws beer lovers from all over, thanks to Summit Brewing Co., Fytenburg Brewing Co., Clutch Brewing Co., Bad Weather Brewing Co. and the ultra-charming Waldmann Brewery & Wurstery, which is housed in a lovingly restored 1857 landmark and specializes in traditionally crafted German lagers. In the diet-be-damned department, Mojo Monkey Donuts, Brake Bread, Rose Street Cafe and the glam Pasticceria inside Cossetta Alimentari offer dough-based responses to every carb craving.
The neighborhood’s shining star is Keg and Case Market at the revitalized Schmidt Brewery complex, a mix of nearly two dozen vendors that demands exploration: Forest to Fork cultivates mushrooms in a 14-foot-tall glass chamber, House of Halva specializes in a dazzling array of the Middle Eastern sweet, and Spinning Wylde turns out 50-plus flavors of eye-grabbing cotton candy. The food hall’s anchor is the theatrical In Bloom, where all cooking takes place at a massive wood-fired hearth.
For shoppers, it’s too late for the quirky Seven Corners Hardware, a mainstay replaced by a mixed-use development. But there’s always the Wescott Station antique store and Sophie Joe’s Emporium, which sells “fun, funky and fabulous” housewares and collectibles.
Right this minute you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who considers a multi-mile west-to-east stretch of Minneapolis’ Glenwood Avenue a neighborhood with a distinct identity, but that’s changing. From Utepils Brewing near Theodore Wirth Park to Parallel Cafe near the Minneapolis Farmers Market, there are neighbors, nonprofits and developers touting the virtues of what has long been considered a development flyover zone. With an enviable location sandwiched between the North Loop and the city’s Central Business District, the area’s potential is off the charts. Several developers, creative agencies and homegrown businesses, including Eye Bobs, Target Photo Studio and KNOCK Inc., have already hunkered down here. Advocates say a proposed extension of the Blue Line light rail, which will run along Olson Highway about four blocks from Glenwood Avenue, will fuel additional development. If you want to see urban revitalization in action, this is the place to come.
Most of the housing along Glenwood is humble, built in the early 20th century and among the least expensive in the city. The median sale price of homes within the Near North neighborhoods is about $190,000, nearly $100,000 lower than the rest of the city. But costs are rising quickly, raising concerns that locals are being priced out, as household incomes here are among the lowest in the metro. Given the availability of inexpensive land, there are plans for new rentals, including an income-restricted apartment building for artists being developed by Artspace. A developer recently announced plans to build the first new market-rate apartments in the area — a sure sign that confidence is building. That residential development is getting a lift from Wellington Management, a commercial real estate firm, which has made a big bet on the area with its LEEF office building and another that’s in the works.
There are several downtown destinations worth a walk or quick ride on the light rail, including Target Field, the Hennepin Theatre district and the Armory. But one of the hottest attractions is the boxed turf field at La Doña Cervecería, which hosts 3-on-3 futbol (soccer) games and leagues.
Shopping and eating
There’s not much of a retail scene here, but since the mid-1980s, International Market Square (the old Munsingwear headquarters) has been the place for anyone on the hunt for home furnishings and accessories. It’s also been a draw for other design-oriented businesses sprinkled throughout the area. The farmers market, which is open daily nearly year-round, is a hot spot for grazers, particularly on jam-packed weekends; ditto the adjacent Farmers Market Annex. But for many locals, the go-to place is Milda’s Cafe, a 55-year-old classic known for its pasties, broasted chicken and grits. Utepils Brewing, the neighborhood’s pioneering brewery, opened in 2017, tapping the pristine waters of the historic Glenwood spring, the source for a longtime (and long-gone) bottling plant.
The area is also home to what’s considered Minnesota’s first Latino-influenced brewery, La Doña Cervecería, which opened in 2018 and shares a building with the recently opened British-focused Royal Foundry Craft Spirits. Sunny, stylish Parallel is the place for well-prepared daytime fare, from beautifully composed salads and sandwiches to berry-topped ricotta pancakes. The coffee-focused cafe is the work of glassblowers and Hennepin Made founders Jackson Schwartz and Joe Limpert. Schwartz is passionate about the area and its potential, and has transformed the former plate-glass warehouse and mirror manufacturing plant to demonstrate his notion that community connections can be created through design and craft.
In the early 19th century, St. Anthony Falls powered sawmills that built the city and grain mills that made Minneapolis the flour capital of the world, turning an outpost along the Mississippi into one of the most prosperous settlements in the Midwest. But by the 1960s those mills had been shuttered, some burned and others buried, concealing the city’s industrial origins. Buildings were cleared to make way for a freeway extension, leaving a wide swath of grungy riverfront rail yards and parking lots in their wake. All that changed in recent decades when developers started converting the mill buildings and their ruins into housing. Then came a new Guthrie Theater, MacPhail Center for Music and the conversion of the old Stone Arch Bridge into a pedestrian crossing over the river with Instagram-worthy views of St. Anthony Falls. Today, the Mill District, sandwiched between the river and Washington Avenue, has become one of the most coveted places to live and play. Although it may seem fully developed, more apartments and other amenities are coming.
From low-income rentals to the most expensive housing in the metro, the Mill District has everything — except single-family houses. Several former mill buildings are now expensive loft-style condos with clear views of the Stone Arch Bridge or downtown Minneapolis. There are also hundreds of upscale rentals and condos in new boutique-style, low-rise buildings (height restrictions maintain the district’s historic feel) that appeal to empty nesters who want an urban vibe, but not a skyscraper canyon. Despite dozens of $1 million-plus condos in the area, a 40-story tower under construction will have nearly 100 condos that start in the high $900,000s. On a budget? There are options, including income-restricted apartments with some of the same views the 1-percenters get.
Walk the Stone Arch Bridge, visit the Guthrie Theater (open to the public even if you don’t buy a ticket to a show) and stroll the spiral path to the top of Gold Medal Park, where you’ll get spectacular views. The new Water Power Park will tell the history of the mills and provide a much-needed riverfront restaurant. The riverfront, by the way, is part of the Mississippi River National Park. There’s more history at the Mill City Museum, where the hot ticket is an elevator ride through the history of milling. Interested in listening to or learning about music? MacPhail Center for Music hosts concerts all year. And don’t forget the Mill City Farmers Market, which sells local produce, crafts and prepared foods on weekends. U.S. Bank Stadium, home to the Minnesota Vikings and other sporting and non-sporting events, is within walking distance.
Shopping and eating
Shopping is a new activity in this neighborhood, with a growing number of options along Washington Avenue, including Trader Joe’s, the new Faribault Woolen Mill and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, a nationally known nonprofit in a historic storefront building. The center has several nonprofit tenants, including the Loft Literary Center and Milkweed Editions, which operates one of the handful of independent bookstores in the city. The Center for Book Arts hosts papermaking and bookbinding classes, but also operates a one-of-a-kind gift shop selling letterpress cards and books, handmade paper and other treasures.
The restaurant scene is in flux. Guthrie-goers make a habit of the theater’s seafood-focused Sea Change, or book a table at Kindee Thai. Zen Box Izakaya is the place for chef John Ng’s steaming bowls of ramen. Izzy’s Ice Cream scoops butter pecan, burnt caramel and raspberry chocolate chip from its sleek outpost on the edge of Gold Medal Park. During the warmer months, the popular Mill City Farmers Market draws shoppers and brunchers in equal numbers. Be on the lookout for two major additions: a collaboration between the Minnesota Farmers Union and Birchwood Cafe is going into the former home of Spoonriver, and chef Sean Sherman, aka “the Sioux Chef” is planning a native foods restaurant in a new park facility at St. Anthony Falls.
Towerside is the Minneapolis neighborhood you’ve never heard of. That’s because until recently it didn’t exist, making it a lesson in what it looks like to build a neighborhood from scratch. Also known as the Towerside Innovation District, this 370-acre zone is tucked along University Avenue next to two of the Twin Cities’ oldest neighborhoods: Prospect Park in Minneapolis and St. Anthony Park in St. Paul. Its story starts in 2013, when a team of developers and neighborhood groups created a master plan for the area. The challenges were significant: Much of the land needed to be cleansed of industrial pollutants. But the opportunities were huge. Along with its prime spot next to the University of Minnesota, the area is served by three Green Line rail stops and is within walking distance of Surly Brewery. Given its proximity to research facilities, planners are calling it the only innovation district in the region that blends brewing and biotech.
The heart of the neighborhood is Green Fourth Street, a half-mile stretch of SE. 4th Street between SE. Malcolm and 25th avenues, which is touted as a pedestrian-friendly, car-tolerant public space. The plan is to have more than 2,000 new residences in the area, and they’re well on their way. Timberland Partners’ Green on 4th project with 243 rentals opened last year, and Aeon recently completed The Louis, a 70-unit income-restricted apartment building. There’s also a new market-rate rental building for seniors, and Twin Cities-based Wall Companies plans to build two 150-unit apartment buildings at its Malcolm Yards project.
When you build a neighborhood from the ground up, you get to create must-have amenities, including an innovative community park (which also filters stormwater runoff). Work is underway on a connection to the Bridal Veil regional trail system, which will help provide the missing link in the 51-mile Grand Rounds Scenic Byway that circles the city.
Shopping and eating
Five-year-old Surly remains a role model for destination breweries. The sprawling $30 million complex is still the go-to spot for local brews and chef-driven, beer-friendly fare, including housemade sausages, smoked meats and the city’s best pretzels; the pizza dough is powered by repurposed brewer’s yeast. Nearby is a newish Fresh Thyme supermarket, on the first floor of an apartment building. Malcolm Yards Market, the Twin Cities’ next food hall, is under construction, reviving a crumbling 1890 factory. Plans are also underway for an Irish whiskey microdistillery that’ll have a cocktail lounge and bar and, following Surly’s example, both indoor and outdoor seating. Looking for more? There are plenty of options along University Avenue, just 10 minutes away by light rail.
Restaurant critic Rick Nelson contributed to this report.