Friday, September 3, 2010

Another Potential Olympic Venue

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is looking for a 500 acre site to potentially build a shooting range that would be suitable for national competitions. Of course, such a site could just as easily be used for a potential Olympic bid.

This is another example that demonstrates how close the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region would be to having all the facilities needed to host a Summer Olympics.

Those that say hosting the Games are too expensive are not well informed. The last three Olympics held in the U.S. made money. There's no reason that a properly managed effort in the Twin Cities couldn't also be financially successful. We're likely to be building most of the needed venues anyway.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Paying for the Pond

Saint Paul is looking at adding a new 4,000 seat hockey rink across from the Xcel Energy Center that's tentatively called "The Pond." They're proposing that the State of Minnesota forgive millions of dollars in loans used to pay for the Xcel Energy Center in order to free up funds for the new stadium.

Two suggestions on this project: First, increase the seating to 5,000. That's the minimum seating required for nearly any Olympic venue. With all of the colleges and pro teams in town, we really don't have to build all that much in new sports infrastructure to host an Olympic effort if we just leverage what we're already planning in order to serve a future purpose. A little vision can go a long way. The Pond could be a great venue for hosting Olympic Badminton. With the Xcel Energy Center, the Roy Wilkins Auditorium and Harriet Island, you'd have a nice cluster of venues that could host a range of sports.

Second, don't ask the state to give any money for the new stadium. Instead, ask for the right to earn it. You do that through a program I call Books 4 Bricks. Right now, the average lifetime cost of a child dropping out of high school is a little over $400,000. We know where almost all of those kids are coming from: They're kids who were not reading at grade level by the end of third grade and they never caught up. With a targeted program of matching literacy volunteers to at-risk kids, we can match the efforts of both kids and adults with dollars to build civic infrastructure, such as The Pond. Kids and adults that meet certain goals can also earn a brick with their name engraved in it that would be incorporated into The Pond. If we can prevent 100 kids from eventually dropping out, we've covered the cost of the venue. More importantly, we've done three bigger things: We've helped kids read, we've built relationships between kids and caring adults and we've also given kids and adults a huge sense of ownership of their community.

We already have the organizational infrastructure in town to launch this kind of program. There are literacy and volunteer coordination groups that could make this a reality if they were given appropriate support. And the capital project isn't put at risk by being tied to this kind of a program. We can set goals that are challenging but achievable.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Not Just a Local Issue

A commuter rail link from Hastings to Saint Paul is of international importance.

How so? Chicago is making a strong bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games. With Barack Obama as President, this bid has special significance to the White House. Winning the Games would go beyond being just a nice thing for a particular American city. It's the hometown for the U.S. President. His prestige is on the line. In addition, winning the right to host the games would be a great symbol of renewed international respect for the United States.

What does this have to do with a rail line in Minnesota? Soccer.

It just so happens that the proposed Red Rock commuter rail line that would connect Minneapolis - Saint Paul with Hastings runs right by the TCF Stadium site. It also happens that the long term plan for the extension of that very same line is a high-speed link to Chicago. A rail line runs right by Soldier Field, the proposed location for soccer finals. In little more than two-and-a-half hours, fans could go from a morning soccer game in Minneapolis to an afternoon or evening soccer game in Chicago, without having to walk more than a few blocks.

Is this significant? Yeah. When evaluating bids, the International Olympic Committee gives greater weight to different aspects of a city's bid. In the top four of those categories is transportation. Recent bids have been hard-fought and very close. Having a high-speed direct rail line between these two important venues could be the difference between winning and losing.

Why would a temporary event be considered as a driver for permanent infrastructure? You'd be foolish to build a rail line just for the Olympics. However, the Olympics provide a catalyst and structure to support projects that need to be done anyway. When you hear of cities spending billions and billions of dollars on the Olympics, it's the infrastructure that's taking the lion's share of the money. These are investments that cities have wanted to make but haven't had a "crisis" to force action. The Olympics forces action.

When you combine the current financial crisis and the need for a fiscal stimulus with the created crisis of an Olympic bid, you have a great opportunity to move the Red Rock project forward.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Midway Architecture Garden — Velodrome

What in the world is a "velodrome"? For those who don't follow the sport of cycling, that's a fancy name for a bicycle racing track. They're big. 250 meters. We have one in Blaine at the National Sports Center. The problem is that it's outdoors, so its wood surface gets exposed to the elements. It will need to be replaced soon.

The best place to put up  a replacement would be in the Midway area where it would have the easiest access to student athletes while also serving the recreational needs of bio-science workers.

Rather than putting up a simple replacement, we should build an indoor facility that can be used year-round. The infield is bigger than the floor area of the Target Center, so there's plenty of room for other events than cycling to be held there. The cost-efficiencies of a multi-use facility are part of what makes it an exciting opportunity. Programming and usage could readily be tied in with a multi-use facility for tennis, badminton, volleyball and other sports (See blog entry "Iconic Architecture"). Like everything else in our architecture garden, it needs to be designed with enough visual appeal to leave viewers out of breath before they've taken a lap on the track.

Midway Architecture Garden — Aquatics

It's the most underutilized geographic area in the Twin Cities. The Midway area is immediately adjacent to the bio-science zones of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, is situated within just a few miles of most of the major academic institutions in the Twin Cities and yet is populated with relatively low-value warehouses. An architecture garden would be a great way to serve the redevelopment interests of this area. So, what to put in it?

The Midway YMCA is looking for a new home. And the U of M's aquatic center is over booked. They'd like to see another competitive swim venue in the metro area for high school and other amateur meets. We need another aquatic center in the metro area.

The Water Cube in Beijing has demonstrated that a natatorium (a building dedicated to swimming) can be architecturally significant. While every college would like to have a swimming pool on campus, wouldn't the ability to use something of the calibre of the Water Cube draw more students from around the region and around the world to Twin Cities colleges, particularly if there were great transit access? 

The transit access is there or can be readily provided. What's needed is a cooperative effort to create a facility that can be shared by multiple schools and serve as a superior recruitment tool for all of them. Our focus shouldn't be on how one local school distinguishes itself from another local school, but in how all local colleges distinguish themselves from colleges around the world. Having an architecture garden whose facilities could serve the needs of area students would be a superior way to do that.

Different stakeholders will have different needs. Swim meets currently held at the U of M make use of the Olympic pool length. The smaller private colleges will generally only require a collegiate rather than Olympic-sized swimming pool. This could be readily accommodated with removable bulkheads. The YMCA doesn't want to pay to maintain a large Olympic pool. A new facility could still work for them. The aquatic centers built for the Sydney and Beijing Olympics and under construction for London's 2012 effort feature facilities that also include more recreationally oriented facilities as well as the competitive venues. Their revenue streams and usage generally complement one another.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Architecture Gardens

If you've been following along this blog, you know that I'm a big believer in iconic architecture. But iconic architecture only really works as a community development tool if it has scale, location and a surrounding area that can take advantage of the redevelopment opportunities created by the attraction.

Iconic architecture is typically located along a waterfront. But what if your location isn't all that hot? The answer is even more scale. This doesn't mean just a bigger building or monument, but more of them. Build a whole neighborhood of iconic architecture. That was the successful approach of Valencia, Spain.

Many years ago, Valencia rerouted a river that would regularly flood the middle of town. This was a great engineering feat. However, it left a dry riverbed in the middle of the city. This area was underdeveloped for years. Showing remarkable vision and daring, city leaders commissioned local son and star architect Santiago Calatrava to design a series of breathtaking structures that have become international attractions. This includes a science museum, planetarium, opera house and arboretum. Another architect contributed an aquatic exhibit, which is also architecturally beautiful. The entire development is referred to as the City of Arts and Sciences.

The result of this effort is a 58 percent increase in tourism, 5,000 new middle to upper bracket homes and 16 new hotels.

There are two great places to implement this approach in the greater Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. The first would be the Midway area of Saint Paul, with an emphasis on athletic facilities. The second would be Brooklyn Park near the Target Corp. campus. Each development would include elements that are likely to be built anyway. An architecture garden approach would simply cluster community amenities together in one place and elevate the quality of architecture. This creates significant synergies that will result in a greater impact than if the facilities were built as stand-alone structures.
I'll talk more about what might be included in each garden in a future post.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Bilbao Effect

Truly great architecture can transform a city district. This was dramatically demonstrated in Bilbao, Spain with Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum. It draws around 1 million tourists per year, 80 percent of whom come just to see the museum. Hotels and swank boutiques have filled in what used to be an industrial waterfront. The results have been termed "the Bilbao Effect," and have become a model for cities across the world looking to rejuvenate a district.

In our region, the Milwaukee Museum of Art has tried to emulate that model. To a much lesser degree, the Guthrie Theater (shown) in Minneapolis has used architecture to boost nearby development. However, the Guthrie probably tries too hard to fit in with its environment. Game-changing landmark architecture doesn't fit in. It says to the world that it's the king of the hill.

From a visual standpoint, the Weisman Art Museum has this look, but it doesn't have the scale or location to allow it to serve as a catalyst for further development.

What all these venues have in common is a location along a waterfront. What do you do if you want to create something dramatic that can increase development but that's away from the water or other scenic location?

Valencia, Spain figured out the answer. Rather than just one great piece of architecture, they commissioned an entire neighborhood of truly stunning buildings. The impact has been enormous. I'll talk more about it in my next entry.