Towerside is a 370-acre district at the heart of the Twin Cities’ 3.5-million-person metro area. The Innovation District extends from the University of Minnesota on the west to the Creative Enterprise Zone on the east spanning two cities and two counties.
The community-born vision for this district called for capitalizing on its incredibly rich concentration of assets – the University of Minnesota, its medical and research complex, three Green Line LRT stations, two thriving neighborhoods – by creating a high-intensity, high density mix of places and spaces where working, living and innovation come together in an equitable, diverse and sustainable community.
Seeking to become a new replicable model of urban redevelopment rooted in district-wide systems for energy, stormwater management, parking, and connected public realm, the Towerside Innovation District was formed to enable community stakeholders and facilitate the vision. As a community and economic development framework Towerside includes a wide array of partners such as higher education institutions, landowners, businesses, government, nonprofit organizations, and neighborhood groups. Towerside creates framework guidelines, finds early capital to support the district-wide infrastructure systems and advances this vision with potential investors, developers and the neighborhoods.
Board of Directors
Towerside Innovation District is governed by it's volunteer board of directors and supported by its diverse partner organizations. Towerside’s strength and potential rely on public-private coordinated partnerships. This structure aligns leadership, improves cross-sector collaboration, and builds new models of inclusive governance to drive effective planning and project delivery.
Nina Axelson is the founder of Grid Catalyst, a clean energy accelerator working to address northern climate challenges through energy innovation and demonstration. Axelson has 15 years of leadership experience in renewable energy development and implementation, utility operations, energy and environmental policy, corporate social responsibility, and community outreach. Prior to launching Grid Catalyst, she served as the Vice President for Sustainability and Outreach for Ever-Green Energy. She currently serves on the board for Clean Energy Economy Minnesota.
Mike Berthelsen is the Vice President for University Services and has had a broad career for over 28 years at the University of Minnesota. University Services (1,952 FTE, plus over 800 student employees and nearly $400M annual operating budget in FY21 and an average capital spend of $260M) includes: Facilities Management, Capital Project Management, Planning/Space/Real Estate, Housing, Dining, Parking, Bookstores, U Market Services. Mike also has served as Associate Vice President for Facilities, CFO for University Services and Budget Officer at the University of Minnesota. Mike earned his Master’s in Public Policy from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and a BA from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN.
Gina Ciganik, Chief Executive Officer of Healthy Building Network, is recognized as a national leader in transforming human and environmental health through strategic partnerships, innovative business practices, capacity building, and novel approaches. Prior to HBN, she was Vice President at a Minneapolis-St. Paul area real estate developer, where she spent two decades creating thousands of healthy, high-performance affordable homes. She was named to Finance and Commerce’s Top Women in Finance (2012 & 2015), and in 2021, received a Women in Sustainability Leadership Award (WSLA), one of the most prestigious awards honoring leadership in sustainability across the globe.
Metric is a policy coordinator with the Community Stabilization Project in Saint Paul, which advocates for tenants’ rights. He serves or has served in active roles with the Frogtown Neighborhood Association, the Summit-University Planning Council and the Aurora-St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Jordan Park School, the Dispute Resolution Center, the Circle of Peace anti-violence initiative and St. Paul Almanac. He also served on the Metropolitan Council’s Central Corridor Community Advisory Committee, working with community members and civic groups to include additional stations along the Green Line light rail corridor.
Dick is a practicing/consulting architect who has served as senior designer and principal in charge of design for a broad range of clients, building types and urban planning challenges. Dick is president of Prospect Park 2020, Inc., a 501-(c3) community development corporation, and a board member of the Prospect Park Association and the University District Alliance established by the Legislature to address planning and development issues unique to the University community. He has served on the advisory board of the Metropolitan Design Center in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota and currently co-chairs the facilities committee at the Textile Center.
Pat brings extensive experience in both real estate law and development to the role, leading real estate development for five years at Opus and ten years at Duke Realty Corporation, and most recently as the real estate practice leader at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister law firm (formerly known as Briggs and Morgan). While at Taft, Pat was also the executive director of Visus, UMFREA’s joint venture with the Pohlad family, and led the master planning work for the East Gateway Project, a real estate development project in the district adjacent to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.He and the UMFREA team are responsible for managing, leasing and developing UMFREA’s residential and commercial real estate portfolio. Pat serves on the boards of University Enterprise Laboratories and as a member of ULI Minnesota’s Governance Committee, Market Council and DEI Task Force.
Karen resides in the Saint Paul portion of Towerside and serves on St Anthony Park Community Council’s Board of Directors, co-char’s the Land Use Committee and is active in the Transportation Committee. She is concerned about improving land use efficiency, increasing mixed-use zoning for industrial areas, housing supply, affordable housing, and improving pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure for all ages. Karen is a civil engineer working for Versa-Lok Retaining walls where she enjoys seeing civil plans for projects going out to bid across the nation.
Vince is Treasurer of the Towerside Innovation District. His background is in medical information technology, with over 20 years experience in cross-functional leadership roles at Medtronic, Inc. and Fairview/University Medical Center. He is currently principal of Northriver Solutions LLC, a technology consultancy focused on nonprofits and small businesses. He also serves on several area boards and commissions, including the Towerside Business Alliance, University District Alliance, and TCF Bank Stadium.
Karl is Executive Director for Textile Center, a national center for fiber art based in the heart of the Towerside Innovation District in Minneapolis. Since November 2014, Karl has led Textile Center into an era of revitalization and artistic advancement. Previously he served as the Director of the Capri Theater for Plymouth Christian Youth Center in North Minneapolis (2007-2014), and he began his arts career with the Minnesota Orchestra, where he served as its Director of Public Affairs from (1992 to 2001), and then worked as an arts marketing and public relations consultant from 2001 to 2007.
Diane is the Executive Director of University Enterprise Labs, an incubator for early-stage startups. She has held leadership roles in innovation, design, product management, operations, and technology transfer. Her experience includes a collaboration with MIT’s Center for Entrepreneurship and regional ecosystem work in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Diane has an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management, an M.S. in Materials Science from the University of Michigan, and a B.S. in Materials Engineering from MIT. She also served as the VP of Client Services for Carrot Health and held senior positions with Seagate and General Motors.
Sabina is a full time entrepreneur and investor in smart city technology, healthcare and social impact based ventures. She is currently invested in and leads three growing ventures, Cytilife, a Smart Campus company, B.Vell a Healthcare start up, and Smart North, a not for profit focused on driving digital equity in underserved and under addressed communities in MN. In addition to Towerside, she serves on the Board of Project Success, MN, and Women Driving Innovation, GA. Prior to this, Sabina worked for 20 plus years across continents and industries in leadership positions at global companies such as Pricewaterhouse Coopers, The Coca Cola Company, the Tata Group amongst others.
Virajita is Assistant Vice Provost at University of Minnesota’s Office of Equity and Diversity. She is also a Senior Research Fellow in the Center for Sustainable Building Research at the University of Minnesota, leading CSBR’s sustainable Design for Community Resilience program that engages graduate design students to assist Minnesota communities interested in taking sustainable and regenerative design action. She is a LEED AP and Adjunct Faculty in the College of Design. She is also a Board Member of the arts non-profit COMPAS, and volunteers at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Bob is a commercial real estate attorney practicing with McGrann Shea Carnival Straughn & Lamb, Chartered. His experience has included legal work with major office and retail projects in the Twin Cities and hospital and healthcare projects throughout the country. He also has professional experience as a civil and environmental engineer. He has held leadership positions with a variety of community and charitable organizations, and currently serves as a vice-chancellor in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota.
Partners + Stakeholders
Towerside is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed as an intentional partnership of non-profit and government agencies, higher education, community residents, businesses, and developers.
- Blue Cross and BlueShield of Minnesota
- CenterPoint Energy
- Central Funders Collaborative
- City of Minneapolis
- City of Saint Paul
- The Cornerstone Group
- Creative Enterprise Zone
- Dorsey & Whitney LLP
- Ever-Green Energy
- Family Housing Fund
- Greater MSP
- Hennepin County
- McKnight Foundation
- Metropolitan Design Center
- Minneapolis Public Housing
- Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
- Mississippi Watershed
- Management Organization
- Prospect Park 2020
- Prospect Park Association
- Prospect Park Properties
- Ramsey County
- Surly Brewing
- St. Anthony Park
- Community Council
- Trust for Public Land
- Twin Cities Community Land Bank
- ULI Minnesota
- University Enterprise Laboratories
- University of Minnesota Foundation Real Estate Advisors
- United Properties
- The Wall Companies
- Xcel Energy