Plan to develop key Lake Street site revived

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2014 - 4:01 PM

Housing, office, retail and home for a farmers market would replace aging school district building.

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A southbound light rail train pulled out of the Lake Street station that overlooks the old Brown Institute building at 2225 East Lake Street on 6/20/12. The buidling now houses the Community Education Services Southside Adult Education Center.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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New life is being breathed into a long-stymied plan to redevelop one of the most significant pieces of land along the Blue Line light rail.

The proposal would transform the area near Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue by replacing an aging building and surface parking lots with housing, office space, street-level retail and a home for the Midtown Farmers ­Market.

The 6.4-acre site is now owned by the Minneapolis School District, which has previously been reluctant to sell because of concerns about where to move adult education ­programs.

But the new scheme, presented at the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization on Thursday, would give the school district leeway by allowing it to stay in its current building for several years as the development moves forward around it. That building would eventually be demolished.

The entire project would be anchored by Hennepin County, which would move a social services hub into the office space as part of a plan to scatter services now housed at downtown’s Century Plaza building.

Development at the Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue intersection has been a major priority for several local politicians, partly because development there has fallen far short of goals before the line opened. Only 280 units of housing have been constructed or are underway, compared with the 1,250 once anticipated.

“This thing could be a win on about five different fronts,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, noting the county’s interest in transit-oriented development.

A development team, L&H Station Development, proposed a similar plan for the school district site several years ago, but talks with the district broke down. The same team is behind the current proposal.

Dick Mammen, chair of the Minneapolis school board, indicated Thursday night that giving the district a window on when it can move makes the idea more palatable.

“Right now what’s critical is this three- to five-year window and to continue to work with folks to see what would work best for both of those programs,” Mammen said. The building currently houses a range of programs, from GED instruction to English-as-a-second-language courses.

The site would have about 500 units of market rate and affordable housing, 100,000 square feet of office space and about 10,000 square feet of retail space. Lake Street, which is now fronted by a retaining wall, would feature ground-level retail anchoring six-story buildings.

Jack Borman, the CEO of BKV Group who is one half of L&H Station Development, said redesigning the site around the school board building actually increases the space for the farmers market by about 40 percent over what was previously envisioned.

“It’s a blessing that we now can get a little bit more space into the farmers market, because it can really become that urban park [with] more greenery and more spaciousness,” Borman said.

Mark Nordland, the other half of L&H Station Development, said the plan envisions the county purchasing the entire site from the school board and leasing back the building. The county then would sell the land in stages to the developer and lease the office space.

The financial details have not been worked out, however, and they could determine if the school district accepts the deal. “We don’t have the details of the proposal, and there’s been no numbers discussed thus far,” Mammen said.

The plan will be presented to the entire neighborhood in April.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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