North Central Gets Approved for Expansion by EPNI

EPNI allows North Central to move forward in raising its new academic commons

The history, the people, and the institutions — these are just a few words that describe one of the oldest neighborhoods in Minneapolis: the Elliot Park neighborhood, located in downtown Minneapolis, which is a community that is hungry for growth.

The neighborhood organization, Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. (EPNI), officially passed the extension of North Central University’s Academic Commons Project, during the July 2019 Building, Land Use, and Housing (BLUH) meeting. 

North Central is planning to build a six-story building which will include a welcome center, a coffee shop, a two-story lobby, and a large event space. The majority of the Academic Commons project will include offices, lecture halls, classrooms, laboratories, a rooftop terrace, and a courtyard, according to North Central University’s Project Description sent to the Minneapolis City Planning Commission.

“It fills in a parking lot,” said Executive Director of the EPNI Vanessa Haight, who has seen some of the blank asphalt surfaces of her neighborhood change into neighborhood buildings.

“In 2002, the neighborhood had many surface parking lots,” she said, and described the vision of the Elliot Park community to fill in the vacant parking lots with some type of development, whether housing or institutional.  

The Academic Common is to be located on the corner of Chicago Avenue and 14th Street, the site of Parking Lot A, the yellow “fortress” building which holds the batting cages, and the Communications Center, where Praise FM now leases space for their FM2 signal.

“It’s a very prominent corner on Chicago,” Haight said, “and so the community was excited to see that it’s a really interesting designed building. It faces downtown; it anchors that corner.”

One of the factors that EPNI is involved in allowing new developments in the neighborhood is convening the voice of the community. Residents are given the opportunity to bring their input and concerns on any new development in Elliot Park.

“Our new mission is building community vitality by connecting and empowering neighbors,” said Haight. “Our main role is convening the community so that they have a voice.” 

North Central’s Director of Development Trent Redmann currently sits as one of the Board of Directors at EPNI. Four of the Board of Directors attended North Central and stuck around to serve the community of what was once their school. 

Changes in land or new developments that emerge in Elliot Park must first go through BLUH. This is a committee that consists of community members that live, own, or work in Elliot Park. The Academic Commons was approved with the motion that it must create a developmental task force with North Central and EPNI representatives. This group of people will further work on North Central’s master plan and approve the design of the Academic Commons project while sharing the details with the BLUH committee as the project further develops.

Haight said that any new developments in Elliot Park that displaces residents is a major concern.

“The future of the neighborhood is to see continued growth but done in a smart way that meets the community needs and respects the community that is already here,” said Haight. Elliot Park is experiencing much growth, in the next two years its population could grow by 20 percent.

One thing that the Elliot Park neighborhood is facing right now is the hunger for growth and investment.

“We don’t want to displace anybody, we don’t want to get to be the new hip neighborhood,” said Haight, “which could mean that all of our residents who have been here forever can’t afford to live here anymore. So we want to see our affordable housing protected at the same time of growing.”

According to the Biennial report of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, 46 percent of renters in the Twins Cities region pay more than 30 percent of their household income for housing. The report showed that in 2017, 23 percent of renters in Hennepin County had a “severe cost burden,” meaning they paid more than 50 percent of their household income for rent. In Ramsey County, it was 25 percent of renters.

The report concluded by saying that more than one in four households in the state of Minnesota pay more than they can afford in housing. 

So who might help ensure that some neighborhood housing stays affordable as new buildings continue going up? Haight says the neighborhood organizations like EPNI can help maintain the balance.

“Neighborhoods are facing a crisis because the city no longer wants to fund us at a decent level,” she said. “Neighborhood organizations fill in the cracks, so we work on stuff that nobody else is gonna work on … We work on stuff the city is not working on.”