A contest for prime real estate next to the National Sports Center is putting the Blaine City Council in a tricky position.
Both a brewery and the Spring Lake Park School District are eyeing the same city block. Both are eager to capitalize on the energy surrounding the Sports Center, with its 54 soccer fields, ice rinks and a golf course — and potential to become the official practice facility for the state’s first Major League Soccer franchise.
Brewery owners want to tap into the 4 million annual visitors who converge on the most-visited sports facility in Minnesota. School leaders see a chance to give students access to those sports amenities.
But city ordinance requires a 500-foot buffer between schools and establishments that sell alcohol. Do city leaders side with craft-beer lovers or kids, or change the rules and allow the two to operate as neighbors?
If he has to pick one, Mayor Tom Ryan said he is leaning toward the brewery, which approached the city first and could be a destination.
“I am not impressed with it as a school site. I don’t think it’s right,” he said, explaining that the neighborhood is mostly industrial and commercial.
But with Spring Lake Park schools nearing capacity, the district, which serves part of Blaine, is jumping at the chance to build an elementary school. School leaders say buying or leasing land from the 600-plus-acre Sports Center is its most affordable option.
The City Council, which ultimately decides, has asked city staff members to explore reducing that buffer requirement. Some say both projects could flourish.
“We could make it work,” City Council Member Dave Clark said. “We need to sit down and let the two players in the game figure out if they can peacefully coexist. … I don’t see a lot of kids cutting class and heading over to the brewery.”
In September, Blaine resident and businessman Previn Solberg told the council that he and five other investors want to open Invictus, the city’s first brewery and taproom. Solberg said they’d like to buy 2 acres of city-owned land on 105th Avenue NE.
The brewery would offer a limited food menu and would supply other bars and restaurants with its beers. Solberg, an avid home brewer, has revealed a rendering of the 7,500-square-foot building with outdoor dining space.
“A brewery seems like a natural complement to the other amenities in Blaine,” he said.
The Spring Lake Park School District’s business manager, Amy Schultz, told the City Council at a September workshop that the district is looking to either purchase or lease nearly 20 acres on that same block to build an elementary school and an early-education center. The desired spot is on the north side of 105th Avenue NE. — the east end of the Sports Center’s property.
“This particular site has some possibilities for cooperation with the Sports Center,” district spokesman Bob Noyed said.
This isn’t the district’s only option: A spot at the northwest corner of 109th and Lexington avenues NE. is also being considered, according to the district’s website. The district is working on a bond proposal that likely will be put to voters in the spring, Noyed said.
The district of 5,700 students has grown nearly 20 percent since 2009, and it is expected to grow another 20 percent in the next decade. A new school opening in 2018 would relieve the intermediate and middle school when they reach capacity.
A partnership could let the school use soccer fields, the district’s website said. Sports Center leaders say they’ve toyed with this kind of partnership for years.
Neil Ladd, the center’s senior director, said they are currently awaiting property appraisals to see if they can move forward with talks with school leaders. “There is a potential for both of them to work,” Ladd said. “It’s a matter of working out the details.”