Plans for redeveloping the former State Farm headquarters complex in Woodbury got their first review — and approval — by the city's Planning Commission last week.
"The community's been waiting a long time for something to pop with this," said Al Rudnickas, a member of the commission, which unanimously approved the site plan and other permits allowing the developer's proposal to transform the nearly 100-acre site along Radio Drive near Interstate 94 to proceed.
The next stop is the Woodbury City Council, which will first review an environmental assessment of the proposed redevelopment on July 30. A final decision on approval is expected on Aug. 6.
If there are no hitches, construction on the first of what will be several phases of the redevelopment could start as soon as September, and the first new retail buildings could open by next spring, said Eric Searles, the city's senior planner.
"We certainly hope this is a three- to five-year development for all of the space, but it's market-demand-driven," Searles told commissioners.
Florida-based developer Elion Partners, in a joint venture with Kraus-Anderson Cos. of Minneapolis, plans to keep the massive former State Farm headquarters building intact and remodel the 400,000-square-foot space, most likely for several users. The building was completed in 1994 and employed about 1,500 people worked there, but it closed 12 years later when State Farm moved the headquarters to Lincoln, Neb., to cut costs.
It's a complex development, with a variety of issues related to parking, stormwater management, tree replacement and other tasks. But Searles said the goal is clear: "To create a vibrant environment with a mix of complementary uses that will ultimately position the existing corporate campus to attract high-quality tenants."
Plans also call for adding 20 buildings at the site. Searles said those include smaller stand-alone buildings that will add about 75,000 square feet of office space.
An "extended-stay" hotel, with 105 to 120 rooms, is planned for the northwest corner of the site. A grocery store and plots for retail stores and restaurants make up another 180,000 square feet in development, Searles said, and there are plans for a bank as well.
The zoning approved for the site aims to keep it primarily as an office complex and "work destination," with retail development taking up no more than 30 percent of the square footage. The centerpiece remains the huge office building.
The developers, Searles added, are committed to filling the building, whose abandonment eight years ago at one of the busiest intersections in a city known for its hard-chugging economic development, has been a long-standing source of angst.
A unique feature of the plan will be a new landscaped plaza linking the building to the nearby grocery store and retail stores. Sidewalks and trails will crisscross the development, and the eastern portion of the site will become part of the city's network of green spaces. That public access, Searles said, will mark a significant change from when the State Farm campus was off-limits.
Traffic flow to and from the site was a point of concern for commission members, along with nearby residents, especially those living just to the south along Hudson Road.
There are five main traffic entry and exit points: the current signaled intersection on Radio Drive, three points along Hudson Road at Commons Drive, Hudson Bay and Spring Hill Drive and one to the north off Woodbury Lakes Road.
A roundabout is planned at the Spring Hill Drive-Hudson Road intersection, and just east of that is the intersection with Thomas Drive. Several commission members questioned whether the roundabout would create new snarls for nearby residents. Searles said the roundabout offered the best option, since it will slow traffic on Hudson Road.