Richfield's 'downtown' begins to take shape

Development near the former Lyndale Garden Center is getting underway.

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Construction will begin soon on development at the old Lyndale Garden Center site. Picture taken in 2006.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune file

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Construction on and near the former Lyndale Garden Center site in Richfield will accelerate this summer and fall, bringing life to the city's vision of a rejuvenated "downtown."

Three major projects and a restaurant remodeling are set for the area near Richfield Lake, north of W. 66th Street and along Lyndale Avenue S. One project -- Lyndale Plaza apartments, across from the old garden center -- began construction last fall and is expected to be complete in November.

"We're feeling really good about the redevelopment that's occurring there and the regeneration of the whole area," said Karen Barton, the city's assistant director of community development. "We want vitality there, and it's coming together nicely."

Just to the south of Lyndale Plaza, on the old Kmart site, Wellington Management is building a 45,000-square-foot LA Fitness and 19,200 square feet of retail space that are expected to open this fall. A restaurant at the corner of 66th and Lyndale will complete that development, according to Wellington's website.

The developer of the old garden center site, The Cornerstone Group, now owns the property and is expected to seek final city approval for development plans before summer. The garden center building will be reused in the project, and the once dilapidated building already has been cleaned up and secured.

Cornerstone's Colleen Carey said the development, which will be called Lyndale Gardens, has two possible retail tenants, but that negotiations are still going on. Housing is also planned for the site.

"Everything is going fine. We are on track," she said. "We had hoped to begin construction in the fall with two tenants, so if all goes well, work will begin on the garden center by fall."

Housing construction would not start until late this year or early next year, she said.

The mild winter has allowed the developers of Lyndale Plaza to get an early start on construction. Terry McNellis of St. Croix Development said the $14 million apartment complex's underground garage and foundation are done and framing for the four-story buildings will start in March.

The project, aimed at empty nesters, seniors and young professionals, will have 94 apartments, 20 percent of them affordable and the rest market rate. The building will front Lyndale like an open "V," with a transit plaza that will link to express bus service to downtown Minneapolis. The plaza was funded with a transportation grant from Hennepin County.

McNellis thinks the rapid transit tie will appeal to potential renters, some of whom have already called. He said the project will start leasing in May and the first apartment wing could be ready for tenants by September or October.

McNellis was one of the owners of the aging strip mall that formerly occupied the site. He said the long Crosstown reconstruction project and lack of access to the area killed the businesses that were in the little mall. With a tight rental market and budding development around the site, he said the switch to housing seems a wise one.

"We owned that shopping center for 19 years. ... It was dated when we bought it, but with time it was really dated," he said. "We worked on this for three years before going to construction. Housing appeared to be the best use, and what's happened in the last year or year and a half has proven us correct."

Lyndale Plaza and Lyndale Station both hide parking at the center of the projects, presenting building faces or green space to the road.

Barton said the next step is to create a plan for paths and public art in the area. "We want to provide a nice pedestrian area there with Richfield Lake and Wood Lake Nature Center nearby," she said.

A less major development -- but an important one for the area -- was Pizza Luce's purchase of the vacant Bridgeman's building on 66th Street, just south of Richfield Lake. The restaurant will renovate the building to seat 140 people and will build a new outdoor patio. It is expected to open this summer.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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