Mid-Hennepin – A Vision for the Future

By | October 19, 2023

I’ve written blogs about dogs – about people – about buildings and about my adventures during the 94 years that I’ve occupied space on this planet – So far, all of these blogs have been in the past, describing things that have already happened.

This blog is going to be different – about something that has not happened – YET!

A street in Minneapolis (Hennepin Ave.) is going to be renovated. It seems that most of the citizens of Minneapolis are upset and most are expressing their anger loudly.

The following blog is my strong suggestion to revise and add on to the already approved renovation plan in favor of a sensible alternative. Read it – study it and support it. It’s not too late!

A portion of Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis is long overdue for a major renovation. There was and is a consensus of support – almost unanimous – that renovation is needed. Especially in the spring when the sudden and huge potholes gobble up many cars. Do you expect smooth sailing with the decision on what to do? Not a chance “the devil is always in the details”.

The city planners, led by their traffic engineer teammates, proposed increasing bicycle lanes, reducing auto lanes, increasing bus lanes, reducing parking, and increasing pedestrian usage. The controversy began, and quickly became angry and extended months into years!  Citizens objected, some guided by self-serving motives, others by naïveté, others by a sprinkle of inexperience. Resistance to change was dominant at every meeting.  It is impossible for the proponents of the plan to ever convince the opponents that the plan will be successful.  It is also impossible for the opponents of the plan to convince the proponents that the plan will fail. Controversy continues! As my famous author friend, Will S., said “full of sound and fury, signifying, nothing!” Just like my kids when they had a mud fight in the backyard!

The city planners finally approved the plan, followed by City Council approval, and ultimately a veto of a portion of the plan by Mayor Frey. The battle is far from over. I see the plan as fundamentally flawed! Why? The plan, after removing all the fancy words, is nothing more than a connector between downtown, which has its own temporary problems, and Uptown, where the City’s rebuild of Hennepin Avenue is a big part of the current Uptown experience – a disaster. The approved plan emphasizes and caters to the twice a day commuter, helping them whiz through the Mid-Hennepin area in the summer (enjoying the cool vehicle with the air conditioner blasting) and in the winter (with the heater blasting all cozy and warm inside their contained space). There is nothing to look at, just a means to ‘get to my destination!’.  The adjacent residents and businesses will endure years of construction dust, noise, and detours through the neighborhoods – for what? Nothing! A connector street only!

As the plan states, the renovation is long overdue, and the improvements must serve Minneapolis for many years. We shouldn’t be thinking of this as a connector street – not even for one year, rather this is an important community place unto itself and needs to be designed as such!  The expenditure of our tax dollars and our employees’ time must be beneficial to the citizens of Minneapolis and particularly the adjacent neighbors who must live with the renovated Mid-Hennepin Avenue every day, and every night, and every winter, and every summer! This renovation must enhance the neighborhood, not ignore it!

Who am I to suggest something so sensible? I am Ray Harris, a 94 year-old provocateur and curmudgeon, but with more experience on urban issues and urban development in Minneapolis than all of the planners and Councilmembers in City Hall, combined! My credentials are that I worked with Lawrence Halprin on the wonderful and highly successful original Nicollet Mall and with Paul Friedberg on the Peavey Plaza and the Loring Greenway. I built the Calhoun Square (now Seven Points) shopping center and parking ramp which I filled with 65 – mostly local, all unique – tenants. I even rode the street cars on Mid-Hennepin Avenue and now live in the Kenwood Retirement community overlooking Mid-Hennepin Avenue.  While I graduated from Stanford University, my real estate knowledge came from a Summa Cum Laude with honors at Meatball Tech and a Magna Cum Laude Masters degree from the College of Hard Knocks. My experience should get you to listen!

How do we move forward? I will prepare an abbreviated proposal which will facilitate and improve the City’s current plan to make it successful and acceptable by addressing more than the commuters – it will also address the adjacent community. Ordinarily, the fee for an abbreviated plan would cost an excess of $200,000 – I will do it pro bono if the City Councilmember/Mayor will appoint a planner to work with me to capture the ideas and guide them through an approval process.

The 2023 Hennepin Avenue renovation plan needs to be more than the current plan of revising the number of auto, bus, and bike lanes. The required street work must be accompanied by an enhancement of the adjacent public spaces and services to the neighborhoods: Lowry Hill, East Lowry Hill, and Cedar Isles-Dean. Since the renovation extends approximately 1 mile from the edge of the Walker Art Center and Loring Park (Douglas Avenue) on the North to the core of Uptown at Lake Street on the South, there should be a unifying theme throughout. A common theme makes sense from a marketing standpoint and allows property occupancy and physical improvements to tie together as would an overall management plan.

The plan must respect the past, consider the present, and anticipate the future. Indigenous inhabitants walked on a path from Owamniyomni (aka St. Anthony Falls) to Bde Maka Ska (fka Lake Calhoun) – a now-paved path called Hennepin Avenue.  Looking forward, that path should be an experience unto itself, not just a means to an end. It should be made to encourage strolling at all hours in all seasons, chatting with friends, and exploring nearby shops.  It should be clean and safe, and a positive contributor to the physical and fiscal sustainability of the planet and community.


Since the renovation area is elongated (roughly one mile) and recognizing not all pedestrians are able to walk the entirety of that stretch (some studies suggest that people will not walk more than 200 feet, less than one block) unless attracted by something which can include an enjoyable place.  The collective wisdom and also my experience suggest it would help to have an electric circulator (jitney) on Mid-Hennepin circling between the parking facilities at the south end (Seven Points/Mosaic) to the parking facilities on the north end (Scottish Rite lot, Walker Art Center, etc.) – stopping along the way for those who can’t or won’t walk the full distance.   This jitney needs to be a specific program that runs frequently and contains riders to this geographic area by extending only from the Mid-Hennepin edge of downtown to Uptown.  The jitney will be free or inexpensive.  Pedestrians can hop a ride and travel every nook and cranny of Mid-Hennepin, hop off and explore, and VOILA! an exceptional, walkable, area. Limited on-street parking will not deter shoppers and explorers.


  1. First, keep in mind that the most popular hours for strolling and shopping are in the evenings and on weekends which does not conflict with the busiest commuter times for bikes and cars.
  2. All on-street parking will be for customers and visitors of local businesses and enforced at one hour in length (with exceptions for disabled people). Extended duration parking can be controlled by steep price increases.
  3. Employees of local businesses will not use on-street parking – they can park in the bookend facilities and commute to their place of employ.
  4. Adequate parking for bicycles and scooters must be available – allowing them to be strewn about (tripping hazard) or chained to other streetscape elements (can be in the way and causes maintenance and repair issues) will not be tolerated and will be ticketed with stiff penalties.


As in wholly owned shopping and commercial complexes, management will be centralized, thereby providing consistent, timely services to every business and person in the area. Snow will be promptly removed from ALL storefronts. Ambassadors will be on scene to provide a welcoming and helpful presence that also assists in providing adequate safety for everyone (in collaboration with public sector personnel). Leasing and other real estate services will also be carried out by the management company as putting a ‘for rent’ sign on vacant storefront and then hoping that the perfect tenant will appear never works, nor does it think strategically about critical mass. I filled Calhoun Square to 65 great, mostly local, tenants by establishing a specific tenant strategy and having in-house leasing personnel required to seek tenants aligned with the strategy.  There should be a thoughtful approach to locating businesses that have connection to the past and are emerging needs for the future.  This can be the place that demonstrates the needs of the community going forward.


Talk is cheap.  We need to recognize the urgency! After underground work is complete at least the following will be implemented:

  1. Only electric buses (including the Mid-Hennepin Circulator) will be permitted in Mid-Hennepin
  2. Only electric automobiles will be permitted in Mid-Hennepin (phased in overtime).
  3. Natural grass will not be permitted on any public lawn area to avoid the unnecessary use of water resource.
  4. A snow melt system should be considered as a water conservation effort!
  5. Solar powered lighting only

We can use Mid-Hennepin to demonstrate our expectations for the future – as a renovated Mid-Hennepin is expected to last many years, hence the present merging into the future.


Budgets matter.  The Mid-Hennepin renovation is expected to and must serve Minneapolis for many years to be successful. The adjacent public space must not be constructed with the same attitude often applied “just rebuild it as it was” and or fixing a budget such that increasing costs start to compromise the design such that the final product appears unfinished and is totally inadequate. That dumbs a project down before a single spade hits the earth. To the contrary, the off-street public space must be an example of excellence in urban development. In fact, instead of reducing scope and longevity, increase the project lifespan and budget so the cost can be written off over a longer number of years than usual. 

Public space improvements should recognize the proximity to the adjacent neighborhoods and create improvements that can connect neighbors.   Some ideas include:

  1. Four Seasons – The improvements should recognize the Minnesota wealth of seasons – with inspiring activities year-round.
  2. Color and Light – Minneapolis experiences night every 24 hours – colorful lights and street furniture should be strategically placed to capture imagination. Mid-Hennepin should be colorful! It seems like all municipal projects are limited to one color, drab gray, which is specified by a color-blind engineer who is only determined to see that the bottom-line budget is not filled with red ink.  Mid-Hennepin must do better.
  3. Pedestrian Way lighting – Fixtures of a distinctive, singular character, color-controlled lamping with variable intensity.
  4. Public Art – should be obvious and plentiful.  It should celebrate our indigenous roots, look to our future (youth from the local Ella Baker Global Studies & Humanities school located on Mid-Hennepin should be engaged in art projects) and the Walker Art Center could bring a local, national, and even international focus to the area.
  5. Pocket parks – for art and sitting areas for relaxing – should be sprinkled throughout.
  6. Trees, trees, and more trees… For shade, texture, color, twinkly lights, and, with luck, birds.
  7. Sidewalks, widened and, wherever possible, cleared of obstructions, such as transformers and other utility hardware that interfere with side-by-side strolling.
  8. Stages, platforms, or plazas in various sizes and design for presentation of music, performing art, etc.
  9. High-tech information kiosks.
  10. Benches of various distinctive designs, and occasionally configured in clusters for conversations.
  11. An overarching, continuous space frame with solar panels, roof panels, lighting and speakers.
  12. Storefront spaces… with a few available for pop-up stores, events, displays, etc. etc.


Budgets will need to cover:

  1. Street improvements and underground work
  2. Bike, bus & transit routes (including the circulator)
  3. Shared leasing and operations to include service district ambassador type of public safety increased real estate and sales taxes to cover)
  4. Pocket parks, pedestrian furniture, lighting
  5. Public art (contributing my fee pro bono allows funds to be redeployed towards art)
  6. On-going public infrastructure repair and maintenance


  1. Thomas Lowry Park (24th and Hennepin) could become public pocket park – more space would be available if the statue were moved to Thomas Lowry seven pools park at Douglas Avenue.
  2. Kenwood retirement property could explore a more ready connection to Hennepin Avenue from its lowest level. All property owners along Mid-Hennepin should be encouraged to convert and or use their property in a manner that removes barriers, includes uses, and connects to Mid-Hennepin with intention.
  3. The Scottish Rite property could explore air rights development above its parking lot
  4. Ella Baker school could install pop-up along Mid-Hennepin for display or sale of student art
  5. Property east of Hennepin at 24th could renovate and upgrade its lower level
  6. The YWCA, which is being sold, could be more open to Mid-Hennepin – ideally a local organization would acquire this facility and make it a truly community-based activity and gathering space
  7. The Mall area owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board could be reappointed as a public pocket park.
  8. Portals could be installed to announce/brand Mid-Hennepin
  9. Mid-Hennepin should be dog friendly with appropriate amenities
  10. Public restrooms must be installed in public areas
  11. Mid-Hennepin will be blank pallet – use it!
  12. Retail offerings need to be primarily locally produced
  13. Disabled needs are critical
  14. Time walking across Hennepin Avenue must be sufficient to allow pedestrians – elders, disabled, children – to cross safely.  Traffic engineering cannot be solely about maintaining vehicular speeds.

Celebrating the past, present, and future of Mid-Hennepin will occur when the area considers its local community – not just those commuting through it.  We need all existing property and business owners to participate in the collaborative effort so success will be achieved (success requires that the effort is, and is perceived to be, one of total involvement of the many people in the area).

11 thoughts on “Mid-Hennepin – A Vision for the Future

  1. Merry Keefe

    Love your design ideas. Wish you had control of the Nicollet Mall which is all grey, hard and boring.
    What’s the next step???

  2. Sally Westby

    Ray – incredible plan. Thanks so much for you thoughtful, simple and créative ideas. I look forward to seeing this happen

    Sally Westby, current resident of Loring Park, 30 yr. resident of Kenwood

  3. Joan Shapiro

    Ray I hope the mayor of your fine city listens and does everything you suggest and then please send a copy to the Nayir if Washington D C and have her follow your exact instructions Then perhaps the Capital of the USA will once again be a livable as bd enjoyable city Yoyr ideas are brilliant and I believe. Quite doable Egos down Ears Up!!!! Joan in DC aka your cousin

  4. Gregory Finstad

    Ray I like your ideas and hope they get traction. As a former Director of Transportation for City of Minneapolis I understand the complexities of your proposal and believe they are doable. I would enjoy visiting with you sometime to give you my thoughts on how to proceed with your plans. Always enjoyed working with you .

  5. Brian Golberg

    Great ideas. Non parochial. Hopefully we might, hopefully,, desperately find some similar thinkers in the government.

    I will anticipate your great ideas for at least the next decade

  6. Robert Glisky

    Ray, I saw the piece on you in the Hill & Lake Press and that’s how I landed here! I’m a public works engineer (not with City of Minneapolis), and I live in East Bde Maka Ska. Very inspiring to read your ideas and aspirations for the Mid-Hennepin corridor. I can tell you’re very passionate about Mid-Hennepin being a place with community at its center. All things considered, I am in support of the approved reconstruction design of Mid-Hennepin. I disagree that the approved plan caters to the twice a day commuter, with nothing to look at, and with no positive impacts to our community. I have strong faith that the Mid-Hennepin reconstruction plans can still create space for the goals you mentioned on neighborhood beautification, (re)development, storefronts, art, etc. But I’m not sure that all of those elements can reasonably (with respect to pertinency of repairing the road, project scope, city authority and ability to make a decision, and $) be incorporated into this municipal street reconstruction project. I’m truly optimistic about this reconstruction project and am so excited to have increased transit services, ability to bike safely to local destinations, and feel even more connected to our neighborhood. Hope you have a wonderful day!

  7. Sandra Nelson

    Ray, thank you many times over for hitting the nail on the head. The current so-called plan is simply a transportation corridor from downtown to Southdale. No part of it addresses the needs/wishes of residents or businesses on, or adjacent to Hennepin Avenue. Meanwhile, the SWLT project is currently under construction less than one mile from my home in East Isles. I attended a virtual Hennepin Ave. Construction Stakeholder Monthly Meeting this week. I was distressed to learn that all design decisions have been approved and no further changes are possible. For like-minded readers who refuse to give up, please sign this petition on change.org: https://www.change.org/p/halt-the-hennepin-avenue-redevelopment-plan-in-uptown-minneapolis?source_location=search
    Or enter “Rethink Hennepin” in the search box.

  8. Kurt Johnson

    What a generous offer to help our city. Over a lifetime you have demonstrated a love for Minneapolis and have improved city life by working so well with others. Our leaders would find you a joy to work with if they take you up on your offer. Hopefully they will!

  9. Tracy Nordstrom

    Providing public toilets (that are clean, safe, well-stocked) is an absolute MUST in flourishing urban areas.

    Water, too, must be available at drinking fountains, water bottle fill stations, and dog bowls!

    Lighting and mobile seating will create the feeling of interest, joy, respite, and communicate that the public spaces are to be USED by the public. Those amenities are inviting, tell the walker, runner, visitor, “you are welcome here! take a load off! enjoy the view/amenities/people watching!”

    Reimagining the streetscape will be a challenge, as traditional “bricks and mortar” retail is retreating. Restaurants with outdoor seating (in all seasons, with heaters and blankets like the Scandinavian countries employ!), places to view or engage with public art, places to sit ALL are essential for good placemaking.

    I agree with Ray: the stewardship of Hennepin Avenue as a through-way is misguided and HURTS the surrounding community. We have an opportunity for something akin to the Champs-Elysees, a tree-lined wide boulevard that celebrates people, diversity, leisure, commerce, environment, AND transit.

    Let’s get going!

  10. Mike Finkelstein

    Ray – I just learned of your blog this morning and am so very grate full for you sharing your experience, expertise, intellect, wisdom, good judgement, creativity, thoroughness, care, awareness, and time. In addition, I’m in awe of not just your deliverables but the simple and complete way in which you expressed and revealed the story — I’m truly inspired and would like your thoughts on how I can help with the action needed to put this front and center.

    Ps: Thank you for your leadership over the years and being a mentor.

  11. Mike Finkelstein

    Ray – it was great talking with you today. You indicated you accidently deleted my comment I posted on your blog last night and asked if I would repost it or email it to you. Well…I didn’t save the post and I didn’t memorize it so we’re kind of SOL. But, the gist of it was thanking you for sharing your experience, knowledge, expertise, thoughts etc and for ‘taking your time to inspire us for a better Uptown. Furthermore, I recall being in awe of your plan and thinking it should be brought to fruition. I also recall thanking you for your mentorship over the years. Looking forward to seeing you this Saturday!

    ps: I’m jazzed that Gregory Finstad posted — Hi Greg!

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