A Neighborhood Revitalized By Books
"MINNEAPOLIS - Back in the heady days of Web 1.0, it seemed that every city tried to create its own Silicon Alley, and this one was no exception.
Along Washington Avenue, between the University of Minnesota and downtown Minneapolis, there were acres of parking lots, a large warehouse-style liquor store and a smattering of commercial spaces that had once served the thriving flour mill district along the Mississippi River, but later became seedy bars and flophouses.
The city tried to rebrand the area as a technology corridor, but not a single dot-com materialized. Instead, three nonprofit organizations formed a partnership in 1999, bought three adjacent warehouses and renovated them into Open Book, which says it is the largest - if not the only - literary and book arts center in the United States.
It is not uncommon for the arts to revitalize a neighborhood, but it is certainly unusual for old-fashioned literature and books to lead the way.
Since Open Book made its debut in May 2000, however, a steady flow of arts organizations have followed, including the Guthrie Theater, designed by Jean Nouvel, who recently won the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Then there is the Mill City Museum, the MacPhail Center for Music, Minneapolis Central Library and a few smaller theaters and art galleries.
More than 1,000 new residential units have been built as well as new and redeveloped commercial property, increasing the value of neighborhood property to $334 million in 2006, from an estimated $25 million in 1994, according to the Metropolitan Council, a Twin Cities regional development organization. Where a sea of parking lots once existed, there is now a parking problem.
"We know for a fact this was the first real estate home for the literary arts in the nation," said Liz Petrangelo, the chairwoman of Open Book's board, which was formed by the three organizations to develop and manage the 55,000-square-foot property. "We don't know if anything like it has happened since, but we get calls from all over the country asking how we did this.""
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