As Richfield's new "downtown" near Lyndale Avenue and 66th Street sprouts shiny new apartment and retail buildings, the missing piece of the puzzle that is Lyndale Gardens is beginning to fall into place.
Lakewinds Natural Foods, a member-owned food cooperative with stores in Minnetonka and Chanhassen, has a purchase agreement to buy 2¼ acres on the site and plans to build a store where the old Lyndale Garden Center greenhouse stands.
The greenhouse will be demolished and the 20,000-square-foot store could open as early as November.
"We are very excited to be a part of the Richfield, Bloomington and south Minneapolis communities," Lakewinds General Manager Dale Woodbeck said in a statement. "There is a clear need in these communities for access to more organic and local foods."
Other development planned by the Cornerstone Group, which owns the 10-acre Lyndale Gardens site, could begin this fall. Those plans include a 150-unit apartment and townhouse building and a retail area.
"We've been working with Lakewinds for a year and a half, and we're both thrilled," said Colleen Carey, Cornerstone president. "Our vision has always been to create a town center for the city of Richfield. ... We're very intent on creating a great space to live and work and play."
Just south of the Crosstown, the strip of land sandwiched between Lyndale Avenue and Richfield Lake backs onto walking trails that ring the lake. Across Lyndale is the just-opened Lyndale Plaza apartment complex. To the southeast is a new LA Fitness and retail buildings that replaced a closed Kmart.
Part of Cornerstone's vision for the site is public space to strengthen the area's heart-of-the-city image. Cornerstone has received a $1.5 million grant from the Metropolitan Council to help create those public spaces.
Carey said plans include a concert stage near the lake, a kids' splash pad, edible demonstration gardens, fruit trees, a fire pit, an outdoor pizza oven and a ground-floor space in the apartment building that will be used like a community room by the public for classes and other events. There will be public art, and an area where a weekday satellite of the Richfield Farmers Market will run through the summer.
Richfield's main farmers market will remain at Veterans Park on Saturday mornings. The city has experimented with a weekday market, but had trouble finding a visible location that attracted people. In contrast, a winter market and community event held at the Lyndale Gardens site in December drew hundreds of people.
Karen Barton, Richfield's assistant community development director, said that in reaction to activity at Lyndale Gardens and surrounding properties, the city is giving its municipal liquor store immediately to the south a facelift inside and out.
"This invigorates our downtown area and will make it a thriving district," she said. "That site has been an eyesore that people really wanted to see improved. We will continue to see reinvestment and redevelopment in the area because of all the activity that's going on."
The city also is looking at ways to connect amenities in the area, including Wood Lake Nature Center and Richfield Lake, to make it easier for pedestrians, bikers and drivers to find and get to their destinations.
The old greenhouse will not be part of those plans. The oddly shaped building was unattractive to prospective tenants, Barton said. Having Lakewinds as an owner-operator is better all around, she said.
While the greenhouses are loved by some who remember the teeming garden center, the building was vandalized after the garden center closed in 2006 and simply doesn't work for today, Carey said.
"There is a lot of history and nostalgia to the site, but sometimes things simply don't work out," she said. "It's not energy-efficient, and it wasn't situated to work for the grocery store."
Parts of the building, including solar panels on the roof, will be saved and reused elsewhere, she said.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan