Suburban downtowns around the west metro are being rebuilt as cities strive to revitalize their cores by capitalizing on the latest development trends.
Many new projects, both residential and commercial, are underway in an attempt to bring density and dollars to sagging suburban centers.
One method many developers and city planners have been favoring lately is massive mixed-use developments that feature luxury apartments sitting atop street-level retail.
Projects like Marketplace and Main in downtown Hopkins and Excelsior and Grand in St. Louis Park have created the high-density corridors city officials desire, although the jury is still out on their long-term effectiveness in suburban centers. These mixed-use projects are aimed at the still-surging rental market driven by young professionals and downsizing baby boomers.
“Five Central,” which broke ground in downtown Osseo in July, is one such example. Five Central is being built by The Beard Group, which also built Marketplace and Main in downtown Hopkins.
“We expect the demographics at our project in Osseo will be the same as our project in Hopkins: 50 percent rented to millennials, 40 percent to the boom generation or older, and Generation X is really the remaining 10 percent,” said Bill Beard, president and CEO of The Beard Group.
Attracting those more transient populations to live — and spend money — downtown is something cities are trying to achieve as the economy continues its slow climb out of recession.
“Getting more people downtown is something the city and the City Council, specifically, is really trying to address,” said Osseo City Planner Riley Grams. “We’ve had a lot of stagnant businesses in the downtown area, especially during the recession, and now things are starting to pick up again. We’re starting to see empty spaces fill up more quickly.”
The latest trends
There has been an explosion of new breweries opening in Minnesota since the passage of the “Surly Bill” in May of 2011. According to a national report put together by the New Yorker, Minnesota saw a 81 percent increase in craft beer production from 2011 to 2012, the second-highest in the nation.
Excelsior Brewing contributed to the boom when it opened in downtown Excelsior last July, and since then its taproom has been a successful weekend draw for tourists and locals alike.
This was something Hopkins city officials had in mind when they began an effort to attract a microbrewery to aid in its downtown revitalization effort.
“We were trying to proactively remove any barriers for a taproom/microbrewery use in our downtown, thinking it could be a great destination and a complement to what we already have,” said Kersten Elverum, director of planning and economic development for Hopkins.
After hearing Hopkins was working on an ordinance to allow taprooms downtown, Jeremy Hale and Blake Verdon, co-owners of Live Your Dream brewery, reached out to the city and worked with city staff to finalize the ordinance, which will be ratified by the end of the month. Hale and Verdon hope to have a taproom open at the east end of downtown Hopkins by the end of 2014.
Edina City Manager Scott Neal took notice of Hopkins’ efforts, asking residents in a blog post last month if they would be in favor of lowering food sales requirements to attract a taproom to Edina.
Downtown Robbinsdale, already home to local institutions Wuollet’s Bakery and Hackenmueller’s Meats, as well as popular new restaurants Travail Kitchen and Amusements and Pig Ate My Pizza, is attempting to build on its growing foodie reputation by trying to attract a food co-op to the city.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum going for a co-op in Robbinsdale. People here are really into the concept,” said Robbinsdale Mayor Regan Murphy.
Earlier this summer, Murphy and City Council Member Pat Backen spearheaded an effort to attract a co-op to Robbinsdale. Since spring they have been trying to persuade Wedge Co-op CEO Josh Resnik to expand into Robbinsdale, and Murphy hopes that the Wedge’s board of directors will soon accept his invitation to tour downtown Robbinsdale.
Wayzata Bay Center
Last year Wayzata launched a major 10-year plan to redesign its lakefront. The plan will include a wide variety of development projects, including senior housing, condos, office space, retail, a hotel and a park. The $125 million first phase is on track to be completed by winter, but the bulk of the work remains.
Over the summer, the city hosted a series of community design workshops to gauge what type of development its citizens are interested in. Dozens, if not hundreds, of ideas came out of those sessions, but certain trends seemed to emerge in a July report to City Council.
Residents often spoke in favor of designing the lakefront in a pedestrian-friendly manner with connections to bike trails and easy access to the lake. Recreational rentals, like paddleboards and kayaks, and the need to offer attractions that will keep the waterfront busy year-round, were also frequently mentioned, as well as a preference for independently owned businesses.
The second phase of the Wayzata Bay Center project is now beginning to come into focus. It includes a large senior housing complex, a “Great Lawn” with 12,000 square feet of green space and a stage near the waterfront, and a two-acre “tree buffer” that has grown around the project.