Whither Shoreham Yards – blight or boon to Northeast Minneapolis

The ongoing saga of the future of Shoreham Yards is as complex and tangled as the map of the 230 acre railroad yard that has taken up a generous expanse of Northeast Minneapolis since 1888.  In recent years Canadian Pacific Railroad has operated the sprawling train, trucking and bulk distribution site that was once the major switch point for trains headed from the grain mills on the Mississippi to the East Coast. Since the mid-1990’s the Yards have been at the center of a host of controversies involving affected neighborhood residents, the entrenched  railroad, anxious developers, concerned environmentalists, health authorities, architectural preservationists and a parade of elected officials.  Though the Yards incorporate the land from Central to University and 27th Avenue Northeast to St. Anthony Parkway much of the discussion about disposition of the area focuses on an area known as “the teardrop” and on the historic Roundhouse.

For the driver speeding past en route to elsewhere, the Yards are a passing curiosity, a maze of interlocking tracks, parking lots, some outbuildings and a neighborhood eyesore.  In fact, the Shoreham Yards represent one of the last vestiges of the prominence of Minneapolis as a transit center.  The facility once served as the primary locomotive repair and maintenance facility for the Soo Line Railroad and its predecessor, the Minneapolis, Sault Ste. Marie and Atlantic Railroad.

A unique feature of the Yards is the 48-stall Historic Roundhouse, constructed in 1887.  Preservationists are particularly concerned about the Roundhouse/ which was designated early in this century as a Minneapolis Historical Landmark. In 2003 Shoreham Yards and Roundhouse were named one of the state’s Ten Most Endangered Properties by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.  To this day the Roundhouse is closed to the public, visible only from a distance over a fence west of Central Avenue and 29th Avenue.  Dan Haugen, writing in the Northeaster (reprinted in the Twin Cities Daily Planet) in 2007, offers an excellent review of the history and current status of negotiations regarding the Roundhouse.

Preservation is but the tip of the controversies surrounding the future of the Yards.  A portion of Shoreham Yards is a designated Industrial Employment District in the Comprehensive Plan for Minneapolis. This designation means that the City will support redevelopment of the area for new light industrial business that provide high job density, good wages and low impact on the surrounding community The City of Minneapolis has outlined a number of potential redevelopment scenarios for the section of the 2008 Shoreham Yards, including the Roundhouse,  in the Shoreham Yards Roundhouse Reuse Study, a living document that is updated regularly on the Community Planning and Economic Development website.  An important recent development is posting of Request for Proposals for two parcels of Shoreham Yards, one including the Shoreham Roundhouse.

Much of the discussion relating to the disposition of Shoreham Yards focuses on pollution, particularly dust from activity in the Yards, as well as appearance and safety issues related to unlocked containers near public streets.  Arguments rage about the contamination of the major aquifer essential to long-term and emergency water access./ Neighbors have also complained about trash deposited on the grounds.. Health Consultation documents have been produced by the state and federal government/ These and hundreds of environment related documents are available on the Shoreham Depository document site which also provides an excellent list of state and corporate contacts.

An important player in the deliberations is the Shoreham Area Advisory Committee (SAAC) formed in 1998 as part of the court settlement between the city of Minneapolis and the Canadian Pacific Railway, an agreement that related generally to demolition of various Shoreham buildings.  The SAAC which meets monthly includes city, railroad, neighborhood organization, business and community members.  Notes of SAAC’s activities over the past dozen years present a vivid record of the work SAAC has done to explore economic, environmental, preservation and other issues.  A 2008 note reports that “Shoreham on Central and Roundhouse is listed as a ‘transformational, once-in-a-generation’ opportunity in the city’s Small Area Plan.”  \

One recent initiative of the SAAC is the Nine Lives Project.   Artist Foster Willey has created one of his “Made in Minnesota” posters featuring icons of the historic Shoreham Roundhouse.  Tax deductible purchases of the Nine Lives Project poster support the work of SAAC.

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The Eastside Food Co-op is taking affirmative action by providing an open forum on Shoreham Yards for the community.  The Other Side of the Tracks is the topic of EFC’s December Network. It’s Thursday, December 9, 7:30 a.m. in the Granite Room at the Co-op,  2551 Central Avenue Northeast, just North of Lowry.  It’s free and open. Good Parking.  MTC #10.

Residents, policy-makers and others concerned about the process, proposed plans and potential problems may wish to consult some of the key online resources linked here or join the exchange on  E-Democracy* (http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/mpls-ne).   Each presents a unique perspective on a complex issue that has profound long-term consequences for Northeast Minneapolis.

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