A manufacturing hub in St. Louis Park, shut down two years ago by the Swiss food giant Nestlé, is showing the first signs of renewed activity after Minneapolis-based Hillcrest Development bought it last month.
Hillcrest is among the best-known commercial building rehabbers in the Twin Cities with scores of successful renovation projects. It finalized the purchase of the 256,465-square-foot property from Nestlé HealthCare Nutrition Inc. for $3.5 million in cash on Aug. 7, according to Hennepin County records.
The purchase came after Hillcrest this summer landed a $365,700 "tax base revitalization account" grant from the Metropolitan Council to be used for cleaning up asbestos and lead-based paint in all 12 buildings on the 18.4-acre site.
Hillcrest Managing Partner Scott Tankenoff spearheaded the renewal of such former industrial properties as the six-building Stinson Technology Campus in northeast Minneapolis and is now tackling the Pentagon Park project in Edina. That's a $500 million effort to transform deteriorating, 1960s-era office buildings into 1.4 million square feet of offices, 40,000 square feet of retail and a 400-room hotel.
And while the Nestlé project is definitely smaller in scale, it shares a key element with Pentagon Park: an underutilized location within the freeway "belt" that, with some renovations, would likely appeal to commercial tenants who want modern facilities close to the city's core.
The plan is to convert the historically single-user site into multitenant spaces, a proposition made easier because its hodgepodge development since the 1960s resulted in a collection of smaller, easily-converted spaces. Interior demolition work has already begun, suggesting some potential tenants have already been tabbed.
"We think this is an excellent site that's going to produce a lot of jobs," he said. "We project we will have at least a couple hundred new jobs there and we're very confident they will be well-paid, above-living-wage jobs. That's how we measure every property in our portfolio. We're all about increasing the tax base."
That's definitely something the city of St. Louis Park had been looking for since Nestlé announced in 2011 that it would shutter the plant. It obtained the facility four years earlier in its $2.5 billion purchase of Novartis Medical Nutrition and used it to produce its Boost nutritional energy drink.
A search for a new user began shortly thereafter and Tankenoff said he quickly saw the potential for the site's location, just a bit south of the intersection of Hwy. 100 and Interstate 394.
"What we're finding is that people want to be there that have a lot of people going out into the community … maybe they're in the service industry," he said. "It's an extremely centralized industrial location in the center of a community with unparalleled freeway access, which is very amazing."
Tankenoff, who lived in St. Louis Park until he was 11 years old, said he was also familiar with a prominent quirk of the site: Despite being so close to two major highways, it's rather difficult to access. To reach it, drivers need to negotiate the Hwy. 100 frontage road past Benilde-St. Margaret's School on the east side or wind around the Luther Westside Volkswagen dealership and then pass under the highway on W. 23rd Street.
But that apparently hasn't deterred initial interest in the project. Tankenoff said potential tenant interest in the building has been "very strong" and added that Hillcrest will be able to "be picky" in deciding which potential takers will provide a right fit for the property.
"There are tons of people looking at the building, that's great and exciting, but we're going to spend the time to find the right balance for our tenants and clients to be compatible with each other," he said.
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal.