St. Anthony Falls: The economic perspective

At our recent Water Over the Dam panel discussion, Peggy Lucas, a founder and partner in Brighton Development, spoke about St. Anthony Falls from the Native American perspective. Her comments are summarized and condensed below:

Near the end of the ’80s, Brighton Development did a lot of small, affordable housing projects, in conjunction with neighborhood groups. We called them catalytic projects because we wanted to stir something in that neighborhood.

We got turned onto a site on the other side of the river, where the Coca-Cola bottling plant had been, but because the falls were not successful from a banker’s point of view, we couldn’t get funding. So the city put out an RFP for the site, and we came forward with townhomes, which are there today. And people moved back into Minneapolis to buy them. If that land were available today, they would be building 40 stories. From there we went on to develop the Marquette block, which is five historic buildings that everyone thought needed to come down.

Our then-mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton, drove down River Road every day to City Hall, and one day she called me and said, “we’ve got to do something about those mills.” That was the mid- to late ’80s. We’d heard about the loft movement in Chicago, so we took our whole team to Chicago. We came forward with a plan for 36 units, got help from the city. It was really not an attractive place to live, but the people came forward and the heroes of North Star lots are the people who had the vision to buy. One of the buyers was Bruce Abramson, who is a principal at HGA. And that meant a lot to people – ‘gosh, if an architect would buy there, it can’t be too bad.’

The older part of the building was so decrepit that we couldn’t even get in there to measure. The people who bought in the oldest part of the building didn’t even know how big the units were. We had to put a whole new structure inside those units.

The thing most people don’t know about this building, the Mill City Museum, is that we went through the whole process and in the end we got denied historic credits, which is just amazing. This building tells of our history. It was a real scramble to help pull this one out of the fire.

People are so attracted to the history and so attracted to the falls. Without that, we would not have been able to build this amazing neighborhood. When I think of the falls being threatened, I can’t even imagine. We need to keep in mind that the feasibility study for the falls was done before people lived here. The fact that people now live here has some impact on whether or not the falls will be affected by a potential hydro plant.

The economic
Peggy Lucas 

The Native American
Darlene St. Clair 

The recreation
Dan Dressler 

The developer
Neal Route 


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