Change is afoot for the neighborhood surrounding Blake Road in Hopkins.
The proposed extension of the Green Line light rail through the area has the community poised to ensure that current residents benefit. Thanks to the Blake Road Corridor Collaborative (BRCC), residents, and local businesses, the neighborhood is rapidly becoming a much more vital, livable place.
Near Knollwood Mall, Cargill headquarters, and Blake School, but separated from western Hopkins by Hwy. 169, the Blake Road neighborhood has faced some challenges. Home to many new immigrants, the area has grown into a diverse community where no less than 37 languages are now spoken. Lacking amenities beyond a neglected park, there's been a surge of interest in forging new partnerships to help turn things around.
Over the past several years, the BRCC-- a coalition of governmental partners, nonprofits, and others working with neighborhood residents--has made great strides in enhancing the area. The first step was a neighborhood assessment done by Wilder Research, which helped build on-the-ground organizing capacity to make sure that local residents had a voice in shaping future improvements.
Through resources provided through Twin Cities LISC, the collaborative hired a community outreach coordinator who created opportunities for the area's diverse residents to work together. New partners came on-board. The Neighborhood Development Center started offering small business entrepreneur classes there. Aeon analyzed the need for new affordable housing construction and preservation strategies. And Project for Pride in Living proposed Oxford Village, a new development that would provide 60 long-term affordable housing units.
"Housing along Blake Road is relatively affordable today," says James Lehnhoff, Aeon's director of housing development, "and the community has worked hard to increase the quality of the neighborhood. However, with all the excitement about the proposed Blake Road station for the Southwest LRT, we're starting to see owners invest in upgrades that may also lead to increased rents. We want to promote property improvements but also find ways to preserve affordability."
LISC also supported improvements in Cottageville Park, which was perceived by many neighbors to be unsafe. As the park improved with new lighting, basketball courts, and a community garden – so did the neighborhood.
Now, even bigger improvements are in the works. The City of Hopkins is working with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District on a $3 million project to improve water quality and the connection between Cottageville Park and Minnehaha Creek. The renewed park, which will be three times larger, will feature a playground, trails, and extensive new landscaping. All of which will further enhance the area's investment potential.
To help the community and the City plan development along Blake Road in a way that attracts new residents but doesn't displace current ones, the BRCC partnered with LISC’s Corridor Development Initiative to host a series of workshops this summer to clarify priorities of residents and explore various development scenarios for three large publicly owned sites ripe for redevelopment.
"This is a great opportunity," says Gretchen Nicholls, LISC program officer and coordinator of the Corridor Development Initiative. "Residents want to make sure that development around the new Blake Road transit station keeps the neighborhood's character, diversity, and sense of place. The community wants to see a more walkable neighborhood, better access to parks and natural amenities, and neighborhood-oriented retail to enhance vitality and livability--as well as a mix of housing options. Many families are concerned that they'll be displaced when new investments push rental rates up."
The future of Blake Road is looking pretty rosy these days. Improvements are well underway, but the challenge now is to make sure that current residents can stay to enjoy them.