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See the concept plan at www.startribune.com/a1289.

Coon Rapids sets sights on future renewal

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA
  • Star Tribune
  • May 22, 2012 - 12:17 PM

Two years after Coon Rapids scaled back plans for a $46.5 million community center to a $13 million ice arena, a redevelopment area toward the north end of Coon Rapids Boulevard is back on the drawing board.

Last week, the city introduced a conceptual redevelopment plan that includes 30 acres of city-owned property near Anoka-Ramsey Community College and the Coon Rapids Ice Center, and stretches across Coon Rapids Boulevard to a 25-acre privately owned tract that also has been slated for redevelopment.

The plan, which envisions public and private projects, residential and commercial properties, truly is conceptual, said City Manager Matt Fulton. The design was selected by a task force of city officials, residents, college representatives and other property owners who have been meeting for the past several months. It was created using part of a $400,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant for demolition on redevelopment sites, but which also can be used for planning.

In fact, Fulton told participants in a public meeting at the ice arena, the area may not become reality for decades. But even in conceptual form, the plan has value now.

"The intent is to come up with a plan everybody can be in agreement with so when the time is appropriate and the economy allows, we'll be able to start pushing forward on the long-term development of that area," he said. "You can't just sit idle and not try to adapt to what the future is trying to bring. This is an attempt to try to plan for the future and give some thought to it before you have to react to something."

A conceptual plan also helps the city identify potential developers, and plan financially for streets and other public investments, said Marc Nevinski, the city's community development director.

In 2005, a community survey identified Coon Rapids Boulevard as a corridor in need of renewal. City officials isolated four tracts along the boulevard: Port Evergreen, with a commercial emphasis, near the Northstar rail station; Port Riverwalk, a residential area near Coon Rapids Regional Park; Port Campus Square, near Anoka-Ramsey Community College and the ice arena, still the location of a proposed community center; and Port Wellness, with a medical emphasis, near Mercy Hospital.

The community center remains in the concept plan, although the City Council has been clear that it won't be built without private investment. Other highlights include a possible location for a Anoka County Library branch, greenways and trails connecting nearby residential neighborhoods, market-rate and senior housing, retail space, a parking ramp for the college and a privately owned hotel/convention center to serve hockey tournament visitors and the nearby Mercy Hospital.

Fulton said that if there is private interest in the hotel idea, development on the riverbank also could open public water access there, in the form of parkland or a marina. Those efforts would complement others in progress in Champlin and Anoka, he said.

Anoka-Ramsey Community College Interim President Jessica Stumpf said the plan is an opportunity to think about how the city and the college can work together to the benefit of students and residents. A library at the site, for example, could serve both populations. So could a pool, though that idea hasn't been officially floated. Retail and restaurant options, as well as planned trails and green space, could add to the destination value of both the campus and the neighborhood.

The college and the city have long consulted each other's long-term plans, she said. When it comes to plans for Coon Rapids Boulevard, where the college serves as an anchor and a destination, that's especially important.

"We want to revitalize Coon Rapids Boulevard," she said. "It's so important that we know what each other is doing and that we do some things together."

Residents will have more opportunities to comment on the plan as it works its way through the city's planning commission, and eventually to the City Council.

So far, though, most of the residents who have weighed in seem glad to see some movement on a project that's been under discussion for years, said Nevinski.

"People were just happy that the city's thinking about this and trying to move something forward," he said.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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