What should Edina do with its old public works site?

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 15, 2014 - 3:00 PM

Some residents say the city needs a new community center.

Edina is debating what to do with its former public works site, one of the few vacant city-owned parcels of land that could be used for a public purpose.

The 3.3 acres at 5146 Eden Av. is at the heart of the Grandview district, a part of the city slated for a redesign that would include traffic calming, more bike and pedestrian ways, green spaces, transit links and perhaps more housing.

What to do with the land has become a tug-of-war between the City Council and some members of an advisory group that studied the area’s future. A majority of council members favored asking developers to propose uses for the property. But a proposal to do that was pulled after most members of a small advisory group objected, suggesting that instead the city should hire a consultant to explore purposes for the site in consultation with residents.

For years, Kim Montgomery has been pushing the city to keep the site as a possible home for a new community center. She was involved with early planning in the area and is one of the drivers behind a website called Citizens for a Better Grandview.

“The process all along has been skewed toward a certain outcome, and that outcome is one that favors developers,” she said. “My greatest fear is that this will be turned over to developers, after all this work, before we have defined the public use.”

On May 20, the council is expected to decide whether to reach out to developers or hire a consultant.

Mayor Jim Hovland said that with a wealth of fitness option in the city, including private health clubs and a recently remodeled YMCA, he isn’t sure the city needs a new community center. Many cities are losing money on such centers, he said.

“I don’t hear any clamoring out there for a community center, like we did for a sports dome,” he said. “I’m reluctant to go there.”

Montgomery and other resi­dents began pushing the city to keep the property as a possible site for a new community center in 2008, when the city’s public works facility was moved and the old building was razed. Montgomery argues that in a fully developed suburb like Edina, vacant city-owned land is precious and should be used for the highest public purpose.

She worries that few Edina residents know that the future of the former public works site is up for grabs.

“I think what needs to happen is the public needs to be informed first and start communicating with the City Council, saying they want to keep public land and that they want a community center,” she said.

Bill Neuendorf, the city’s economic development director, said the issue of whether the city needs a new community center is “the million-dollar question.”

“Some people say we do; others say we don’t,” he said. “And others say we do, but they don’t want to pay for it.”

Residents weigh in

In January and February, the city surveyed residents about the Grandview area. Asked whether they would support a new community center at the former public works site, 53 percent said they would support one, while 40 percent said they would oppose it. Asked what type of amenities they would most favor there, 30 percent wanted a fitness center, 20 percent favored a performing arts center, 16 percent liked an indoor pool and 14 percent wanted meeting rooms.

Fifty-four percent said they were likely to use a community center, but 38 percent said they were not willing to pay more property taxes to build one. Fifty-nine percent were willing to see a property tax hike.

Edina already has a community center that is owned by the Edina public schools. The former Edina East High School at 5701 Normandale Blvd. is home to district headquarters, community education, a French immersion school program and has other spaces like a dance studio and kitchen that are used mostly by community education.

Falling behind

  • Would you support a new Edina community center?

    Earlier this year, Edina residents were surveyed about whether they’d support a new community center at the former public works site. The results:

    53%

    said they would support one

    40%

    said they would oppose it

    38%

    said they didn’t want to pay more property taxes for it

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