Charlotte leaders look to Minneapolis for new solutions to old problems

06/13/2014 12:00 AM

06/12/2014 5:38 PM

For 59 years, the Charlotte Chamber has taken the city’s political stars, business bigwigs, policy wonks and civic boosters on annual field trips to other cities.

The mission: find insights to help solve the Queen City’s most pressing challenges.

Last summer, they went to Houston to look at ways to grow the energy sector, among other topics. On Wednesday, about 130 people will join the chamber on the latest inter-city visit, this time to Minneapolis.

The headline issue this time falls in line with the chamber’s theme for 2014 – Healthy Charlotte. The group will look at some of the civic projects Minneapolis has undertaken to claim the No. 2 spot on the American Fitness Index, which ranks the health, well being and fitness levels of citizens in the 50 largest U.S. cities. Charlotte ranks No. 27.

Minneapolis is known for its extensive network of walking and biking trails, chamber President Bob Morgan said. If you’re an avid biker or runner here in Charlotte, you know our infrastructure for those activities leaves much to be desired.

Charlotte has ranked poorly in recent studies of pedestrian safety, and neighborhood leaders near major thoroughfares such as South Boulevard complain that not enough has been done to protect pedestrians.

The three-day trip will include a biking tour of Minneapolis, and Mecklenburg County commissioners’ Chairman Trevor Fuller will moderate a discussion about improving infrastructure for biking.

The trip will also confront other perennial big issues facing Charlotte’s leadership. Among them: how to fix educational inequities; encouraging entrepreneurs; supporting professional sports teams; and paying for roads and transit.

Morgan said Minneapolis uses buses, bus rapid transit lanes, light rail and commuter rail – an array of transit choices the Queen City is still struggling to finance.

“That topic’s not going away in our lifetime,” Morgan said of the transportation needs. “Government is increasingly challenged to fund infrastructure with existing revenue.”

The chamber has visited Minneapolis before on an inter-city trip, Morgan said. Local legend has long held that a chamber inter-city trip spurred creation of uptown’s Overstreet Mall – the network of enclosed walkways running between office towers – in the late 1970s.

The mall has long been criticized by urban planners, who say it prevents uptown’s street-level retail – another topic on the agenda in Minneapolis – from gaining a foothold.

But the Overstreet Mall-from-Minneapolis legend apparently doesn’t involve the inter-city trips. The chamber didn’t do an inter-city visit to Minneapolis until 1993, Morgan said.

Eric Frazier writes about economic development. Got a story tip? Contact him at 704-358-5145, efrazier@charlotteobserver.com or @Ericfraz on Twitter.

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