Hastings holding out for right proposal for Hudson site

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2013 - 1:55 PM

City officials have been underwhelmed by proposals for apartments or a hotel on the site, saying they want a more diverse mix of uses.

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The H.D. Hudson Manufactoring building in Hastings.

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Hastings continues taking steps to redevelop the former home of H.D. Hudson Manufacturing, a riverfront landmark that city bought in 2010 with the goal of making it part of a rejuvenated downtown.

The City Council last week approved rezoning the building, the last industrial property on Hastings’ downtown riverfront. The change allows several different new uses for the site, including housing, lodging, offices, restaurants or stores.

Potential developers had told the city they wanted the new zoning designation in place before they submitted redevelopment plans, according to Community Development Director John Hinzman.

After demolishing a nonhistoric addition last fall, city staff members met informally with five developers to gauge their interest in the remaining 100,000-square-foot property, most of which dates back to the early 1900s. Two developers wound up preparing concept plans, which earlier this month got less-than-enthusiastic reviews from the Hastings Economic Development and Redevelopment Authority.

The Hastings Prescott Area Arts Council also has indicated interest in the property, possibly for artists’ spaces and residential units.

The commission took no formal action after discussing the plans on March 14, but Hinzman believes it likely will seek to broaden the search for a workable plan through a general request for proposals. “They’re looking to take a very cautious approach toward development of the site,” Hinzman said. “They want to make sure there’s not something out there we haven’t seen or heard yet.”

Two plans for apartment buildings — one prepared by The Beard Group of Hopkins and another by Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates — fell short mostly because they would essentially restrict public access to the building. A key goal for a redeveloped property is to have at least some of it be open to the community as well as outside visitors.

“I really think the public is looking for a space they can be a part of,” said Commissioner Pam Holzem.

Holzem and Tony Alongi, a commissioner and council member, both said they would prefer to see a mix of uses, such as retail or offices, in addition to apartments. Alongi also wondered if all the housing had to be rental. “Has the [condominium] market blown apart that far?” he said.

In an interview, Bill Beard said his firm doesn’t not believe a retail use would be viable at the site, which is at the far end of downtown.

Beard said that in general, cities approach downtown redevelopment “wanting to be something like Excelsior & Grand.” The mixed-use project in St. Louis Park combines restaurants, stores and housing on a large stretch along Excelsior Boulevard.

“Most cities can’t support that kind of retail,” Beard said.

In addition to an apartment project, Sherman also prepared a plan to convert the building to a 69-room hotel with a restaurant and meeting space. The concept meets the city’s public access goals, but Commissioner Ron Toppin noted that the $12 million project relied heavily on public financing.

“[Sherman] needs a bank, not a public entity for financing,” Toppin said. “I can’t see the benefit to the community.”

The company’s George Sherman said the financing projections for the hotel as well the apartment plan were “very preliminary.”

Sherman said two midlevel hotel chains, which he declined to identify, have indicated they could be interested in the site. “That was reassuring. It’s a relatively small site in an area not mainly targeted by business travelers,” he said.

Both Beard and Sherman said they remain interested in the site and are prepared to wait and see what other plans surface. “If the opportunity presents itself, we’d be more than happy to revisit our proposal,” Beard said.

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