Eden Prairie's 'town center' idea bumps into Wal-Mart

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 19, 2009 - 2:14 PM

The discount giant says it will work with the city, but it wants to stay put in the redevelopment.

Eden Prairie envisions a new "town center'' in its future, and Wal-Mart -- to the company's dismay -- has a store right in the middle of it.

Wal-Mart has urged Eden Prairie to alter its redevelopment plans for the area north of Eden Prairie Mall to take its store out of the plan. The city's concept calls for smaller, pedestrian-oriented businesses forming a new 100-acre downtown that would completely encompass the current Wal-Mart site. An all-new "Main Street" would even cut right across Wal-Mart's existing parking lot.

Wal-Mart likes its Eden Prairie location and plans to stay put, regional vice president Michael Gardner said in a letter to Mayor Phil Young. He asked that the city revise its plans to "reflect accurately Wal-Mart's plans for the future of its property,'' and to "modify the plan so that it no longer shows a new road that would bi-sect the Wal-Mart site.''

City surveys have found that Eden Prairie residents are eager for a downtown where people can live and walk to shops, restaurants and transit, city officials say.

While stressing that they don't want to drive business out of town, council members in December unanimously approved the future town center concept, Main Street and all. The "town center" is one of the most ambitious parts of Eden Prairie's 2030 planning guide, which the city -- like every other locality in the metro area -- has sent to the Metropolitan Council for approval.

Eden Prairie's hope is that private developers will recast the area that is now home to Wal-Mart, Emerson Process Management and the Brunswick Zone bowling alleys, transforming it into an area of four- to six-story buildings with commercial establishments at street level and housing above. The city figures it would have space for about 600 new units of housing.

A key question for the future is whether Wal-Mart's plans for its store and the city's vision for the town center can come together.

Eden Prairie Community Development Director Janet Jeremiah said Wal-Mart is welcome to stay where it is if it does not enlarge its store. Wal-Mart has said it would like to turn the store into a super center. Jeremiah said she thinks it's possible that the city and Wal-Mart can both achieve their goals.

"We are just starting to work with the new representatives at Wal-Mart to get a better sense of how interested they may be in redevelopment,'' Jeremiah said. " At this point they have indicated that they are interested in working with us.''

Wal-Mart has a large site and "they could wind up selling off parcels and developing [the store] in a more compact manner,'' Jeremiah said. "We believe it is possible to do a two-story Wal-Mart and still have the parking and still have room for additional development.''

Wal-Mart intends to cooperate with the city, said its senior manager of public affairs, Lisa Nelson. "We are going to work with the city in any way possible to help them achieve what they want to achieve.'' But, said Nelson, "We would like to bring our customers in Eden Prairie the convenience of a super center.'' And, "The road is not in our plans.''

Officials from the city and Wal-Mart are scheduled to talk later this month.

Jerry Pitzrick, a member of the city's Planning Commission and the only city official to vote against the 2030 plan, said he is all for creating a town center. But at the chosen location, he thinks the plans will be doomed not only by the resistance of current businesses, but by a high-voltage power line that runs right along the route of the new Main Street, from Technology Drive on the north to Prairie Center Drive on the south.

The city found that it would cost more than $20 million to bury the line, which is now slung from steel towers, including one that stands right in the middle of Wal-Mart's parking lot. The cost of moving the line would be $3 million to $6 million, Pitzrick said.

"I don't think it's viable to do residential in that area as long as the power line is there," Pitzrick said. "People will not buy residential with a view of a high-voltage power line that sings to you during the warm summer evenings.''

After studying the question, the city "decided to keep [the power line] where it is, perhaps in a green median in the center of the future road,'' city planner Mike Franzen said.

"I don't think anyone really likes the look of it, but it kind of is what it is,'' said Planning Commission Chair Jon Stoltz. "To bury it and pass on those costs to the citizens of Eden Prairie would not be the right thing to do.''

As a consultant in the building industry, Pitzrick said, "I see lots of big development projects all over the country. When you see what we have going against our plan, the probability of this ever happening is not too good.''

Said Stoltz: , "I don't think it's going to be smooth sailing by any stretch of the imagination.'' Some changes undoubtedly will be made to the plan. "We want Wal-Mart in the city. We're going to work it out.''

The creation of a town center will depend on private developers getting interested, Jeremiah said.

"We would like this to be market-driven. The city does not have any intent to purchase properties or otherwise try to force redevelopment.''

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711

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