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City planners in Bloomington and Richfield will work with a group of urban design professionals to reimagine the area of Portland Avenue and Interstate 494, a collaboration that will begin with a meeting set for Feb. 24.

“The Portland Gateway area is characterized by aging commercial buildings and is difficult to navigate whether on foot or bike,” said Melissa Poehlman, Richfield’s Assistant Community Development Director. “There’s a significant amount of housing in the immediate area, but it’s almost impossible to get around without a car.”

City of Bloomington officials agree.

“From a redevelopment standpoint, one of the biggest issues is coordination,” said Julie Farnham, Senior Planner with the City of Bloomington. “It’s a large area, with many property owners and users. Not everyone has the same priorities.”

In 2020, the Congress for New Urbanism selected the area around the Portland Avenue and I-494 intersection for a Legacy Project.

The Congress for New Urbanism is a group of planning and design professionals with a stated mission of building beautiful and sustainable places. The group’s Legacy Projects usually involve free, in-person design assistance on selected projects. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of all Legacy Project activities last year.

While it remains impossible to restart the project with large-scale, in-person events, the Congress for New Urbanism and both cities see the value in virtually reimagining engagement activities in order to move forward with the project.

The Legacy initiative brings a nationally recognized design firm to engage with local communities and understand their priorities for this area. Normally, the process is based on a four-day community design workshop with an emphasis on face-to-face community participation. However, activities this year will include virtual small group listening sessions and an array of online engagement opportunities.

A virtual kickoff meeting will be held 6 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 24. Members of the design team will describe the project and their initial observations and ideas for revitalizing the area. They will also demonstrate the online engagement tools the community can use to share their ideas and comments on the design team’s ideas.

Online engagement tools will be available for two weeks following the kickoff meeting.

“We see this as a great opportunity for the two cities to collaborate,” Farnham said. “We want to approach this project together in order to bring both sides of I-494 into one shared vision for this neighborhood.”

“City borders are artificial in so many ways,” Poehlman said. “The residents and business owners in and around this interchange don’t care whether the grocery store is located in Bloomington or Richfield. They care about whether or not they can easily get to that grocery store, or restaurant, or service station. These are the issues we want to address through the Legacy Project.”

“The goal is to generate ideas, make people aware of this project and get them excited,” Farnham said. “It’s a way to educate people about other projects, too, like Metro Transit’s D-Line and the I-494 reconfiguration.”

The design team will use the input received from the community, stakeholders, and officials as they generate a formal plan the two communities can use to enhance the area.

For more information on the project and how to join the virtual kickoff meeting, visit blm.mn/plan/portland-legacy.

- Courtesy of the city of Richfield

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