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Lee Lewis of Clare Housing at the site of a project on Lowry Avenue NE. Lewis sees such projects as “something of a catalyst for a hard-to-develop site.”

Richard Sennott • Richard.Sennott@startribune.com,

Group plans development around Lowry Avenue Bridge

  • Article by: Don jacobson
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • June 27, 2013 - 7:12 PM

 

With last year’s opening of the new Lowry Avenue bridge, the wave of redevelopment and investment in northeast Minneapolis may be finding a new frontier along the once-languishing thoroughfare.

One of the first efforts is an $8.5 million plan from a group including Clare Housing, DJR Architecture, Java Properties, Master Properties and David Nelson Properties to rehab the former Little Jack’s Steakhouse at 201 Lowry Av. NE. into a viable new retail/housing venue.

Under plans approved by a City Council committee this month, title to the 111-year-old former dining spot is to be transferred to the group for $150,000 and then renovated for around $1 million for use as a new restaurant or some other kind of commercial tenant.

Meanwhile, a second phase of the project calls for the site’s surface parking lot to be the new home for 36 units of permanent affordable housing for those with HIV/AIDS to be built by Clare in a $7.6 million effort, funded mainly through the sale of low-income housing tax credits. Clare already operates 113 units of supportive housing for people with HIV/AIDS.

Lee Lewis, the nonprofit’s executive director, said Lowry Avenue is ripe for a rebirth as a redevelopment hot spot.

“I feel our Clare Apartments [on Central Avenue] in northeast Minneapolis, which opened in 2005, acted as something of a catalyst for a hard-to-develop site, and because we took the bull by the horns, there’s not only supportive housing but owner-occupied housing and Habitat for Humanity homes there now,” he said.

Similarly, Clare’s 2010 opening of a 45-unit apartment building near the Lake Street stop on the Hiawatha light-rail line is helping serve as an anchor to spark future development there, he said.

“That’s kind of a hallmark of what we’ve done,” Lewis said. “Assuming that this Lowry Avenue neighborhood takes off — and I hope it does with the opening of the bridge — I feel pretty good about getting affordable housing in there now while prices are such that it’s still an option. It could become a very vibrant and sought-after neighborhood.”

Lowry Avenue also could be getting an investment boost from restaurant entrepreneur Leslie Bock, owner of the popular Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge.

Bock first established her tiki lounge just off the intersection of Lowry and Marshall Street NE. in a converted former A&W drive-in, then three years ago moved it to its current site at 1900 Marshall St.

The original site has been vacant since then, but this month Bock announced plans to convert it into a new venue called Betty Danger’s Country Club, featuring a “Minnesota Tex-Mex” menu and a Ferris wheel.

“We have (for a long time) felt that Northeast is where it’s at,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I have been committed to Northeast for the last 10 years. For a long time the area has attracted artists, but it is now increasingly attracting creatives which is bringing more vibrancy and more forward-thinking profitable businesses.”

While Lowry “has potential to be a great avenue,” it still needs “some capital improvements and new energy to get it there.”

But the beauty of the new bridge, Bock added, has piqued interest among businesses.

“Lowry Avenue is one of the last remaining areas that hasn’t been significantly developed, which leaves a lot of potential for it to be tapped,” she wrote.

The Hennepin County-led effort to replace a 103-year-old, structurally deficient steel-deck bridge with a $104 million “signature” span was completed in October, more than four years after the old one was closed. Some 15,000 vehicles per day were crossing the first bridge, making it a key route between the city’s north and northeast sides.

 

Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal. He has covered Twin Cities commercial real estate issues for about a decade.

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