Developers are usually very competitive, engaging in a never-ending jockeying for locations seen as having the best potential for returns on investment. But an exception is happening in Minneapolis’ emerging Prospect Park North area, where three local builders are presenting a united front as part of a larger goal for the neighborhood.
Representatives of Prospect Park Properties, Wall Cos. and Oppidan Investment Co., each of which have development projects in the area, appeared together at a recent event of Minnesota Commercial Real Estate Women.
They spoke about their common work turning the Prospect Park neighborhood into a national model of “integrated development.”
Integrated, of course, means working together, which is why the transformation of the industrial area around the Prospect Park Green Line light rail station is unusual in the history of community development in Minneapolis.
The developers praised an overarching vision, first laid out in 2008, for redeveloping the area into a mixed-use urban village featuring high-density housing and green infrastructure. The plan emerged from the Prospect Park neighborhood association and was later spun off into a new organization called Prospect Park 2020. That group has since been joined by a public-private coalition called the Prospect North Partnership.
The latter group, established in 2014 through the efforts of the Urban Land Institute, counts among its public members the University of Minnesota’s real estate arm, the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County. Perhaps its most active private-sector member is Prospect Park Properties, a firm led by neighborhood booster and second-generation real estate professional Jeff Barnhart.
Barnhart, a 2008 U graduate, told the group his story of rather reluctantly taking over his father’s small-scale real estate business, which was centered on several commercial buildings at the corner of University and 29th avenues. With the coming of the Green Line three years ago, he found himself becoming a key player in the neighborhood’s transformation.
“One of our buildings was taken through eminent domain to build the station and another burned down. So I’ve had to learn a lot about real estate over the last four or five years,” Barnhart said. One of the lessons, he added, was the value of working together with community partners.
He kicked off Prospect Park’s current boom with a new Hampton Inn on the fire site.
He quickly followed that by partnering with Chicago-based Harlem Irving Cos. on the Link, a mixed-use project with 258 market-rate apartments and a Fresh Thyme grocery store. Its location once held the Barnhart family’s main commercial property.
The young developer sold his interest in that project and is now tackling his next one in conjunction with Timberland Partners — Green on 4th, an upcoming 243-unit residential building. It provides 66 affordable apartment units directly across 4th Street SE. from where nonprofit developer Aeon is planning a new 70-unit affordable building.
Oppidan vice president of development Shannon Rusk said her company is providing the senior housing element needed to complete the range of options for the Prospect Park urban village. Oppidan’s 295-unit building will be operated by Ebenezer Senior Living and emphasize senior cross-programming with the U.
Veteran Minneapolis developer John Wall, whose vision for redeveloping the neighborhood long predates the Green Line, said he has obtained a letter of intent from an unnamed anchor retailer for his proposed Malcolm Yards project, which has morphed from a U-oriented research park into a mix of uses including commercial, housing and retail, all while working closely with the roster of Prospect Park stakeholders.
Barnhart wrapped up the presentation by revealing that neighborhood backers are joining in the competition to land Amazon.com’s second U.S. headquarters, playfully illustrating it with an image of the Amazon logo splashed across the “United Crushers” grain silos.
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer based in St. Paul. He is the former editor of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Real Estate Journal.