When Southdale opened in 1956, the car was king. The shopping center’s parking area was so vast that giant animal signs marked the different lots, and shoppers found their cars by looking for the camel or the owl or the gopher.
Almost six decades later, Edina is trying to remake the Southdale area on a more human scale. The city recently approved Lunds’ plans to replace the Byerly’s store on France Avenue with a new store and three apartment buildings. But approval followed months of haggling over pedestrian accessibility, sustainability and how the development would connect to the greenway known as the Promenade.
Instead of pushing back from France behind a huge parking lot, the new Byerly’s will hug the street. Wide sidewalks and bike paths will link the store and apartments to the Promenade, the art-lined greenway that runs from Centennial Lakes to the Galleria.
City Council members hope Lunds’ $45 million-to-$50 million development is the first in what ultimately could become an area with shopping, doctors’ offices, recreation and work within reach of people who walk or bike.
“It’s another step in the evolution of that whole Southdale district,” said Mayor Jim Hovland. “More people are living there. … Eventually we will see a lot more greenery, and over the next 20 or 30 years, it could almost become a little village to itself.”
Lunds is partnering with Minneapolis developer Schafer Richardson to build three apartment buildings with a total of 246 units. Lunds’ real estate adviser, Jim Vos of Cresa Advisors, said the Edina development is the most ambitious Lunds has ever attempted.
“This is bigger than anything they’ve ever done before,” Vos said. “They had an old store on a very large site with a lot of excess land, and the question was, do we put in more strip retail or do we do something unique?
“The city encouraged us to do something different.”
Centennial Lakes, with its park, apartments, condos and retail, introduced mixed-use development in the Southdale area in the late 1980s. In recent years, Edina has tried to push that theme north, with the lure of connecting to Promenade walking and bike paths.
Hovland said city officials hoped the greenway would trigger private development, and then came the Byerly’s plan to redevelop its nearly 10-acre site.
It wasn’t easy to satisfy the city. The Lunds proposal went to the City Council with no recommendation from the Planning Commission after the group split on the plan because of concerns about sustainability and access.
“They were trying to push us to a better place … but it’s a question of what the marketplace will accept,” Vos said.
Byerly’s is a grocery store that people visit once or twice a week, he said.
“Nobody is walking from [Edina’s] Country Club neighborhood with three bags of groceries,” he said. “We might get more walkers here, but we couldn’t ignore cars, because that’s how most people experience the store.”
In the end, the store was pushed close to France to “enliven the France Avenue retail experience” and the apartment buildings were moved nearer the Promenade and into the neighborhood, Vos said.
As the Lunds design evolved, it included widened sidewalks, seating and a trellis or other welcoming feature near the Promenade and a courtyard for the apartment buildings. Public art will link up with the art features along the Promenade, and buildings will have bike racks.
The city long has planned a water feature just to the east of the Byerly’s site, along the Promenade. Vos said he is talking to the city about possibly using the pond as a deposit for water from the roofs of the new buildings, giving it both an aesthetic and functional role as a storm-water pond.
City officials also pushed sustainability. Lunds agreed to try to exceed state energy standards by at least 5 percent, but the council asked them to push it to 10 percent if possible.
Traffic is a concern
The Byerly’s redevelopment coincides with work to improve France Avenue, an intimidating corridor that has up to eight lanes of traffic. Several intersections in the Southdale area are being redesigned to make them more pedestrian-friendly, and in some places sidewalks are being added that will have a buffer between the sidewalk and street.
At a city hearing, a few residents said they were worried that the development could add too much traffic in an already-busy area. City studies indicate there should not be a problem, but Hovland said he believes the city will have to watch future development to make sure roads don’t get too congested.
Ironically, what’s happening now near Southdale fits with what architect Victor Gruen envisioned for his groundbreaking shopping center in the 1950s. Gruen saw Southdale as a sort of village center, with homes, schools, recreation and medical services nearby, and he eventually became disillusioned with the intensely retail focus of many malls.
The Byerly’s store on France will remain open until the new one opens in fall 2014, Vos said. The first apartment building also will open then, with the other two expected to be done by summer 2015.