Development plan on Lake Street hits a snag

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • June 26, 2012 - 4:39 PM

One of the best places for transit-oriented development in Minneapolis lies where the Hiawatha light-rail line crosses Lake Street bus routes and 4,000 riders board daily.

But a dispute over the biggest chunk of developable land for housing and offices has pitted neighbors and the city against the school district. The Corcoran neighborhood has been pushing for 10 years for redevelopment of the 6.4-acre lot and building, once occupied by Brown Institute and which is now home to adult basic education classes and a farmers market.

Minneapolis Public Schools put the entire site into a 2010 request for developer proposals. But after an $80 million development proposal emerged, the district had second thoughts about relocating its adult education classes and pulled the building out of the proposed redevelopment site. Frustrated neighborhood and city officials said that the move would jeopardize the site's redevelopment potential.

"We are willing to wait another 10 years," Corcoran Neighborhood Organization's land use and housing chairs told the district in a June 6 letter opposing partial redevelopment.

The developer and district continue to huddle in search of a solution that would accommodate the classes for adults, many of them refugees who are pursuing GEDs. "I would hope that we would be able to put this to rest soon," said Mark Bollinger, the district's chief administrative officer. "We want to remain good partners with the communities."

The district bought the Brown Institute building in 1998 after the technical school moved to Mendota Heights. It was used for offices and Anishinabe Academy, an Indian-focused pre-K-through-8th-grade school that operated there from 2003 to 2009. When the district decided to sell the Lehmann Building, farther west on Lake Street, adult education programs moved to the Brown building.

The site, which also houses the Midtown Farmers Market, lies next to the busiest neighborhood stop on the Hiawatha Line. Trains connect with three bus lines, including the heavily used Route 21 on Lake Street.

That's why a development team proposed building 80,000 square feet of office and retail space, plus as many as 575 units of housing serving several differing rental markets, including seniors and low-income people. L&H Station Group also would create space for farmers market stalls.

"It is the best site for a true mixed-use, transit-oriented development on the Hiawatha Line," said Mark Nordland, an L&H principal.

The district originally sought 35,000 to 40,000 square feet in that development to hold the adult classes and an enrollment center for families, both serving primarily the city's South Side.

But the cost of the space was more than the district was willing to pay. So it put the onus on L&H to find a transit-accessible alternate site in the area, where it expects demand for adult classes to grow. When that came up empty, the district said it would only sell the parking lots.

Bollinger said earlier this month that L&H was able to devise a reduced proposal. But the neighborhood opposes that. Adam Duininck, the area's Metropolitan Council representative who lives six blocks away, calls partial redevelopment "problematic."

Gary Schiff, the area's City Council member, is upset that the change of plans wasn't communicated. "The city was kept in the dark," he said. But he added that he's optimistic that the city's development assistance arm could find other sites for adult students.

The neighborhood said in a letter that partial redevelopment, without the Brown building, would reduce the visibility of the farmers market, complicate parking and leave a building that is difficult to adapt to multiple tenants.

That opposition comes despite a history of school-neighborhood cooperation. The district has served as the neighborhood market's landlord for 10 years, and district fine arts students and neighborhoods collaborated last weekend on a street mural project at the Folwell building, a former middle school that the students will occupy when it reopens this fall as a K-8 arts school.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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