One of many commercial redevelopment scenarios revolving around the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail transit line is being pursued in Hopkins, where city officials hope to land a federal grant to spur a possible new hotel and housing along the route.
The effort involves applying for $7 million in funding from the Federal Transit Administration to construct a 240-space park-and-ride ramp serving the downtown Hopkins light-rail station at Excelsior Boulevard and 8th Avenue S. It would require the acquisition and razing of an office-warehouse building owned by CTD Properties, an entity headed by Radio AAHS founder Christopher Dahl.
Built around the parking structure would be a new hotel, which city planners say could provide a connection between the stop and Hopkins' popular Mainstreet, which is seeing an upsurge in commercial leasing activity.
At the same time, a big park-and-ride there would allow the city to reduce the number of parking spaces planned at the Blake Road and Shady Oak Road stations, thus freeing more space for redevelopment activities at those sites. An unnamed housing developer is already eyeing the Blake station but is being stymied by the size of its proposed parking deck, said Kersten Elverum, Hopkins' planning and development director.
The City Council and the Metropolitan Council's Southwest Corridor Management Committee have each issued resolutions of support for the Downtown Hopkins station park-and-ride grant application, which would also include a $1.75 million contribution from the city should it be successful.
It has quick time frame: The transit administration is expected to decide by May 21.
The Met Council committee backed the bid as a measure of fairness for Hopkins since the city would lose a significant amount of tax base due to a decision to build the line's operations and maintenance facility at 5th Street and 16th Avenue S.
In return for their support, the light rail planners would potentially get an "opening day" hotel development ready to go when trains start rolling in 2019, Elverum added.
The plans would require the acquisition of the Johnson Building, a 61,000-square-foot office-warehouse building built in 1974. Dahl, who built his Radio AAHS children's programming network into a nationwide presence in the 1990s, said that while he supports the city's redevelopment efforts generally, the building — which is nearly 100 percent occupied — is not for sale.
"When this whole thing started out, that stop was originally going to be a small-scale 'kiss-and-go' lot, and not a big parking ramp," he said. "I still like that idea better than a ramp."
Elverum said the Johnson Building has long been on the city's radar as a possible redevelopment site because it lacks the concentration of jobs it would like to see at the key corner.
"We've talked with Mr. Dahl off-and-on, and he's aware of our application for these funds," she said.
The city believes a hotel would work there because of its proximity to Cargill's corporate campus and other major employers, which could lure business travelers. And Hopkins' distinction of being the trailhead for the Southwest Regional LRT Trail and the North Trail Corridor could tap more clientele.
Eden Prairie-based hotel market analyst and broker Ted Leines of Leines Hotel Advisors agreed the site has potential.
"I think it could be viable, but it probably comes down to access from Highway 169," he said. "It's far enough away from downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie that it would make sense if people could get convenient lodging there."
Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal.