Harsh economic realities dashed Centerville’s dreams of a new downtown district in 2007.
Around that time, the City Council approved an ambitious master plan to turn the intersection of Centerville Road and Main Street into a mix of shops and housing, only to shelf it as the economy tanked.
Last week, the developer told the council that the dream isn’t dead, but that the vision would need to be scaled back and it might be prudent to wait a little longer.
“The plan we had, we couldn’t get off the ground today,” said developer Bill Beard, of the Beard Group. “The values that drove the redevelopment plans are still there. What is the right project that we should be looking at to drive and create a new plan?”
The upside is that the Anoka County city of 4,000 was able to halt the original concept while it was still in the planning stages. Other suburbs that have invested in downtown concepts have struggled.
“We did not get much off the ground,” said city administrator Dallas Larson. “Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.”
Beard said Centerville can learn from other cities’ experiences.
Cities need to be more realistic about the amount of retail space their population can support, Beard told the council. Some have loaded downtown redevelopments with retail space only to watch it sit vacant.
“Comprehensive plans have way too much retail that will never be developed,” Beard said. “Small businesses, they are under stress. We are not seeing a lot of growth in that area.”
Cities now are scaling back on retail.
“More is less,” Beard said.
That will hold true for any redevelopment in Centerville. A future downtown likely could support a coffee shop, a small chef-driven restaurant, a dry cleaner and other service industries, he said, but the reality is that it’s never going to draw large mall retailers.
Townhouses, once a safe bet for a downtown redevelopment and a key part of Centerville’s original master plan, are now not marketable, Beard said.
“Apartments are the only sector in real estate that is booming. There is 98 percent occupancy,” he said.
That’s driven by two demographics — baby boomers looking to downsize and the millennial generation that is pushing back marriage and staying in rentals longer, he said.
Both groups are looking for high-end apartments with hardwood floors, granite counter tops and other amenities.
“Maybe it’s time to come and take a look and re-engage in this,” Beard said of the Centerville downtown plan.
He cautioned that the recovery in the Twin Cities is uneven.
“This part of the metro, the northeast, is recovering the slowest,” he said.
Council Member Jeff Paar, who was on the council in 2007, said he knows residents are interested in the project, especially some alternative housing options for empty nesters.
“I myself would like to revisit this whole thing,” Paar said.
Even getting a new coffee shop in the downtown area would be a welcome addition, Paar said.
“I’d like to have you come back in and see what we could do,” he said.