Paul Miller of Minneapolis Public Works gets a unique view of Northeast’s latest “stone soup”-style project. Traveling in and out of Minneapolis by the Northstar commuter train, he sees JROW, XOXO and the two apartment developments that surround the soon-to-be sculpture path.
Neighborhood residents see JROW from 22nd Avenue as a sidewalk at the base of the railroad tracks west of Madison St. NE or as an angled pedestrian continuation of Jefferson Street approached from 23rd Avenue NE.
As one of his last events in office, First Ward Council Member Kevin Reich gathered quietly with the two apartment developers and Miller Dec. 14 2021 to celebrate the new concrete walkway and the lone permanent sculpture XOXO by Karl Unnasch, recently installed. Representing the popular symbol of hugs and kisses, it’s made of Coreten steel in flowing forms with a heart for one of the O’s and the other hanging from the last X, both filled with gem forms lit from within at night by LEDs. It’s placed near the embankment such that selfies are possible with or without trains in the background.
Becky Landon of Landon Group triggered the first development in this area a few years ago, building the Hook and Ladder Apartments. There are two buildings, one of which was built with traditional methods, the other with many energy-saving features. She recalled walking the site with Reich and Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association (HNIA) representatives, finding some intentional raised garden beds amid the overgrown brush and fallow storage facilities.
Landon said she hopes Northeast residents will discover the new path even on their walks this winter.
Reich explained that neighborhood priorities included affordable housing, environmental/energy conservation and art, outside and inside the project. Hook and Ladder did all of those things, with several art pieces on site, artist designed trash receptacles and bike racks, plus art in common areas inside.
One of Reich’s priorities was to leverage the fact that this is all in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District. As for the sculpture walk, he said when there’s a multi-faceted puzzle of a project, he knows he can give it to Paul Miller to figure out.
JROW sculpture walk construction paused when TE Miller Development [no relation to Paul] bought its site for what is now The Huxley, and needed access through the vacated street for construction staging. COVID got in the way. The project experienced other delays with the discovery of abandoned pipe under the street.
Trees and grass had been planted earlier at the northern end. Finally, just in time this fall, the rest of the concrete and landscaping went in. To avoid encroaching on the railroad bridge embankment, TE Miller allowed the southern portion of the sidewalk to be built on their property.
Robb Miller of TE Miller, which split the cost of the sculpture with HNIA and partnered with Art to Change the World to commission smaller artworks to give their first tenants, called the collaboration “a lotta fun.” They all agreed it “flips a lot of scripts.”
When the weather is conducive, sculptures will be located on the three recently poured concrete slabs now covered by snow. What’s on display will change every three years, according to the HNIA website. Paul Miller said the art will be managed through the city’s public art program. JROW was funded by the two developers and in part, the city of Minneapolis.
Robb Miller gave a tour of the Huxley building after the windswept exchange outside. It was not named for the author Aldous Huxley, he explained, but tested well in marketing. Artforce facilitated art throughout the building including two pieces in the rooftop elevator lobby by Hossle Woodworks, and a giant map on one common room wall showing art locations with large stars. With market-rate units “on the small side,” the building includes a co-working space with phone booths and several other places to let people get more space and community in the process, Miller said. The building is completely full.
Public Works’ Paul Miller confirmed that he enjoyed the challenge of working with Reich, the two developers, and the neighbors on this public/private partnership. “It’s more than the curb and gutter, more than the asphalt and concrete.” And, he enjoys the view from the train. “It’s quite striking.”
Article and photos by Margo Ashmore