Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Times They Are-a-Changin': Uptown Bar Edition

Uptown is buzzing with conversation about the possible closing, or at least relocation, of the iconic Uptown Bar & Cafe. If all goes forward as planned, the current building will be demolished and a new, three-story building erected in its place. There are a lot of issues here, and I still have to sort out some of my thoughts. In the meantime, here’s my first stab at working through some of it:

The owner is old, and is the one who wants to sell. This is NOT an issue of a beloved local institution being forced out due to market forces. This is an essential point, and those demanding that the city step in to intervene need to keep this in mind.

There’s a possibility that the Uptown Bar would relocate elsewhere in the neighborhood. Not the same thing, I know, but better than nothing.

Is the Uptown Bar “historic”? I have mixed opinions on this point. I’m a strong believer in historic preservation, probably more so than many people in Uptown. I also like the Uptown Bar’s building, I like its sign, and I like its significance to not-so-distant Uptown history. At the same time, businesses come and go. That’s life, like it or not. Take a look at the Rainbow CafĂ©. Time moves forward. Much as I’d like to see the Uptown Bar stay where it is, I think it’s reasonable to accept that this is an inevitable change of guard in the neighborhood. The building has historic value, but I don’t think it’s significant enough to justify forced preservation. I would, however, like to second the suggestion I’ve heard floating around that any new design incorporate the Uptown’s sign, or otherwise preserve some element of the building and its history. I also hope that if and when things move forward that the Uptown Bar get in contact with the Hennepin History Museum, the Minnesota Historic Society, or, for ephemera, the Minneapolis Collection at the Hennepin County Library to see if they’d be interested in any materials for their collections.

If the Uptown Bar closes, does that really mean Uptown has “lost its soul”? This is another opinion frequently expressed by regular Uptown Bar patrons. I don’t agree. While I welcome some of the neighborhood’s changes and dislike others, I think Uptown was – and continues to be – more than just what is represented by the Uptown Bar. Uptown is more than a bar (or breakfast) scene. The Uptown Bar may be far less annoying than Cowboy Slim’s or Chino Latino, but it’s still just one aspect of the neighborhood. The Uptown Bar is an important local institution, but it’s not the only thing of value in Uptown. For those looking for local, independent, smaller, unique businesses, there are still plenty of those around, too. And for everyone who claims that Uptown has become just another suburb, well, I’ve yet to come across a Twin Cities suburb that offers the level of density, amenities, and overall urban lifestyle offered by Uptown.

Yes, I’ll be sad to see the Uptown Bar leave. No, I don’t want to see another chain in Uptown. I will be sad to see the Uptown Bar’s building gone, no matter how wonderful (or not wonderful) the replacement building will be. I’ll be interested to see what detailed arguments proponents of the historic preservation movement put forward. I’m sympathetic to their concerns, and if the arguments are good enough could still change my personal stance. Still, at this point in time I am resigned to saying a fond farewell to a longtime neighborhood landmark, and raise my Uptown Bar glass in salute to a local institution.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

LRT Meeting August 13

This isn't one of my regular blog posts, as I've been very busy lately and haven't had much (any) free time, but the LRT meeting tomorrow, August 13, is too important to let slip by without comment. I'll write a post soon about my comments about the importance of the 3C Southwest Corridor, but in the meantime there are several blogs and websites that do a great job of laying out some of the issues:

Connect Uptown: Want LRT through Uptown? The Connect Uptown website helps keep you informed on developments and how to go about making sure your voice gets heard.

The Transport Politic: This blog post has been getting a lot of attention lately, in part due to the blogger's extremely useful maps showing the proposed routes in context with neighborhood density.

Minnescraper: Minnescraper's forum has an entire thread devoted to the Southwest Corridor. Read the latest posts for comments and details relating to the most current developments.

Choosing a route that leaves out Uptown is short-sighted, and bad for the city, the neighborhood, and the region. The current bias is against the 3C route (based on part on arguably faulty numbers), so now is the time to show overwhelming public support for the Uptown alignment. You can do so tomorrow, August 13: the meeting will be at the Central Library at 11:30.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Moving the Walker Library?

Above: The original Walker Library

I knew that there was a new Walker Library on the horizon, but until recently had not been aware that there is a possibility that the library could move to a different location. There are no specifics – at this point this is more of a “what if” kind of question – but the library would still remain in the Uptown area. I was surprised to discover that this was even open for discussion, but the more I think about it the more I like it.

The current location limits expansion. While the location on the corner of Lagoon and Hennepin is certainly convenient, the footprint is small. It will be a cold day in hell before a Minneapolis library axes parking in return for building space, so once you factor in the need for parking (even if an underground garage) there still isn’t going to be much room for additional space. Moving to another location would provide more flexibility with design (including parking options) as well as potentially free up more space for a larger building.

Go east, young library. While I certainly want the library to stay within Uptown, I really like the idea of it moving east along Lake or Lagoon. Even a short move would put it that much closer to residents of Lyn-Lake and the heavily populated Whittier and Lyndale neighborhoods.
What about public transportation? I’ve heard some complaints that patrons would be hurt if the library was not in such close proximity to the transit center. I don’t buy this argument. The library should be within easy distance of bus (and, I hope, a LRT line!) routes, but that doesn’t mean it has to be directly adjacent to the transit center. People can walk a few blocks, and those who can’t, but still depend on public transportation, will continue to have other options such as Metro Mobility. Ideally the library will be moved east along the stretch of Lake or Lagoon between Hennepin (I’d be open to as far east as Bryant) allowing for both easy bus access beyond simply the Transit Center as well as a convenient connection to the Greenway.

“Uptown” does not have to mean within two blocks of Hennepin and Lake. I’ve also heard the argument that if the library moves that it will be a sign that commerce has taken over the heart of Uptown, and that the people will have lost as a result. I think this argument only flies if one considers Uptown to be a very small commercial core. By moving the library to a different location within Uptown there’s the chance to further strengthen the entire area. Providing a civic building, a community gathering place of great social and symbolic significance, away from the historic heart of the commercial district will help send the message that Uptown is more than just a couple of intersections. If located between somewhere between Hennepin and Lyndale it could further strengthen the connections between the traditional Uptown area and the Lyn-Lake area.

What about the current site? The corner of Hennepin and Lagoon really does deserve a great building. I’m open to the possibilities, but don’t feel that it has to be civic in function. I would hope it would be something drawing enough traffic at different times of the day to keep that corner vibrant and bustling, further helping to liven up a block that is currently not living up to its livability potential. What would be really nice, though, although admittedly not practical, would be to turn the original Walker Library into a post office. That would ensure some civic presence in the heart of Uptown, reuse a building that will always look somewhat institutional (in a good way), and provide a much-needed service to the Uptown community.

A clarification on my stance on a mixed-use library: I had previously stated that I oppose a mixed-use library, in part because I like the idea of a library having sufficient community and cultural heft to stand on its own as a landmark and local focal point. I still feel that way, but do like the idea of some additional non-library use, although in moderation. If some low-key office space, perhaps with a separate entrance, were feasible it could help with costs, as well as provide some additional foot traffic in Uptown. It would then be available for future library use, if, say, the library system needs additional administrative space or has other needs. Another potential mixed-use option would be a coffee place or something similar (although Uptown is not exactly lacking in those); something to provide library patrons with a quick place to get a snack or a drink, while also providing some extra income for the library.

Finally, the Uptown branch may not be large enough to support such a thing, but a high-quality friends of the library store, one selling relevant gifts and book-related accessories, perhaps, could both bring added revenue and traffic to the site as well as enhance the library as a destination. It may be a branch library, but that doesn’t mean the Uptown neighborhood can’t treat it as our own “central” library. These options would only be feasible on a new site. In the end, though, I do firmly believe that the library should look like a library (although that can be interpreted in innovative ways – it doesn’t need to look like the classic image of a library) and should have a form befitting its status as a local landmark and major community destination.