The Historic Walker Lake District in St. Louis Park, Minneapolis is home to a variety of businesses and has been the subject of many previous planning efforts. The Historic Walker Lake Small Area Plan addresses the challenges facing small businesses including development pressure, incompatible zoning standards, aging buildings, poor connectivity, opposing use patterns, and robust parking requirements.
An mostly ignored commercial area in a first ring suburb provided opportunities for revitalization and a unique historic district in a quickly changing city.
In addition to traditional engagement efforts such as public meetings, the small area plan successfully reached 55 local businesses by going door-to-door, which achieved the goal of engaging 50% of businesses. This then encouraged the development of a merchant’s association, who then was able to leverage grant applications for façade repair projects and public art.
The plan included updated uses they would like in the district, such as coworking spaces and food halls, and uses they would like to exclude, such as car repair services and parking lots (as a lot’s primary use). Many trade-offs and barriers were discussed and acknowledged from previous planning work so that preserving historic building stock and economic development goals could be prioritized together.
Temporary activation of underutilized public spaces and parking lots can serve multiple uses: activating a space before the desired business moves in or builds out a new development; bringing foot traffic and activity to the district which increases awareness and sales for nearby businesses, and creating an affordable, easy-to-manage quick win for the merchant’s association.
The Historic Walker Lake District is located in St. Louis Park, Minneapolis. Viewed as auto-oriented and underutilized, the district is home to a variety of businesses and historic buildings, and has significant redevelopment potential, as identified by numerous planning efforts that came before this small area plan. Therefore, in an effort to not replicate those previous planning efforts, this small area plan focused on implementing the community’s previously identified vision, as well as new ideas that were developed through the new planning process.
The success of this plan relied heavily on engaging businesses and landowners, which is known to be very difficult because of their commitment to their businesses. Placemaking strategies will attract economic development and increased foot traffic, which will in turn encourage revitalization. Strategies include wayfinding, temporary activations, and pedestrian public realm improvements. The recommended overlay will improve identified gaps in previous recommendations, such as use tradeoffs, parking minimums, and design guidelines.