After several years kicking the tires and fine-tuning their concept, NHL hockey player Jordan Leopold and his wife, Jamie, are moving ahead with plans to build a wedding event center on a onetime nuisance property along the Mississippi River in Brooklyn Park.

The couple this week presented the City Council with plans for Leopold’s Mississippi Gardens at 9510 West River Road, nestled along a river bluff just south of the Hwy. 610 bridge. The council unanimously approved several elements of the project Monday on a first reading and will vote on other aspects of it in subsequent meetings.

Jordan, 34, is a defenseman with the St. Louis Blues and a former star for Robbinsdale Armstrong High School and the University of Minnesota. Jamie is co-owner of the couple’s Riverbend Properties Inc.

The spot, atop a steeply sloping parcel at the river’s edge, has been home to commercial uses for about 100 years and was once the site of Brooklyn Park’s municipal bar and liquor store.

A subsequent 1960s building housed the Rum Runners bar, which later became the Riverview Bar and Grill. Despite being one of only a few riverfront restaurants in the state, it was the target of frequent noise complaints from neighbors and eventually went into foreclosure.

That building and two neighboring single-family homes were demolished after Riverbend purchased the properties in 2011. Since then, the lots stood empty.

The Leopolds put the project on hold last year as they pursued another opportunity in Champlin, where the city was seeking potential redevelopers for the Mississippi Crossings project. In that effort, Champlin solicited proposals to redevelop a city-owned parcel at the center of the ambitious riverfront renewal. The Leopolds expressed an interest in building a special events center and restaurant there. Their bid was ultimately rejected by city officials, however.

They refocused on the former Rum Runners site, revealed the details of a design by Robert Shaffer of Minneapolis-based Foundation Architects and announced a fall start to construction.

“The Leopolds have been working on this for a long time,” Shaffer told the Brooklyn Park Planning Commission last month. “The site is difficult because of the grade, but we have designed the building so views of it [from West River Road] as well as its own view of the river will be very nice.”

The single-story, 10,395-square-foot building will include a spacious deck along the south face to provide extensive views of the Mississippi River. A tower at the northeast corner of the structure will be its most visible element, serving to “define” the structure, Shaffer said.

The project will “provide the unique function of evoking a sense of place and create a connection between two transitional places — namely the residential homes to the south and the 610 bridge to the north,” he wrote in a project narrative. “The building … will serve as a significant landmark at this key entry point to the community.”

Jamie Leopold told the planning commission that the center’s ballroom will hold approximately 315 people, and so would be geared more toward weddings rather than larger-scale events such as corporate functions. Target Corp. has a campus near the location.

“As much as we’d like to host Target’s events, because of the site and its charm, it needs to be small … it couldn’t be a giant kind of building,” she said.

An unusual feature of the property is its access to the river flats, which would be used for a wedding ceremony with a reception that follows in the event center.

 

Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal.