Near downtown Minneapolis, off Glenwood Avenue, Jackson Schwartz and Joe Limpert are expanding their glass lighting business into a former glass factory, a space big enough for spinoff enterprises.

Farther west, in the shadow of the dilapidated Fruen Mill on Bassett Creek, Dan Justesen is eager to start brewing and serving beer in the $3.7 million Utepils taproom and outdoor beer garden.

Between those two bookends of the booming corridor along Glenwood and 2nd avenues N., veteran commercial property developer Wellington Management plans to turn part of the former Leef dry cleaning complex into 110 units of artist-oriented, mostly affordable housing.

Signs of developer interest abound in the Bassett Creek valley and Glenwood corridor area that’s shedding its heavily polluted past as a location for businesses such as oil companies, coal yards, scrap dealers and a metal plating firm. Its rising profile stems from a combination of public and private investments: soil cleanups, the new Van White Boulevard and the city’s decision to rezone the area for cleaner commercial and residential use.

“I think the whole area has real potential to be great,” said former Minnesota Viking Carl Eller, who’s bullish on the area.

He bought one of the area’s formerly worst-polluted properties in 2006 on a $200,000 contract for deed from Hennepin County, which got it through a 1994 tax forfeiture. Now developers are knocking on his door with multifamily residential proposals for a parcel overlooking Bassett Creek, with future access to nearby stations on two light-rail lines.

Still, some tensions over land use remain between residents and businesses.

One market test will come later this month when the city asks for developer proposals for three surplus parcels from construction of bridges that lift Van White over the creek and twin rail lines. The parcels are zoned for multifamily residential but the city is looking for commercial or mixed-use proposals.

The showplace on Glenwood now is the two-year-old, $24.5 million child mental health facility built by Washburn Center for Children with a combination of public and donated financing.

But the pioneering redevelopment in the area, the 1980s conversion of the mammoth Munsingwear factory complex into International Market Square’s warren of design showrooms, has been followed by more private investment. Examples include the 811 building across Glenwood from Market Square, the renovated building at Cedar Lake Road N. that’s now the home of Eyebobs eyewear, and the nearby home of Knock creative agency.

Remnants of the area’s grittier past remain, such as the paper recycling operation south of Leef and the dumpster yard farther east. But that didn’t discourage David Wellington, who scouts properties and lays development groundwork for Wellington Management.

The Leef property was vacant for at least seven years before Wellington bought it. Working with Artspace, Wellington’s plan is to raze part of the aging laundry complex that’s now adorned with barbed wire, upgrading the western gateway to the valley along 2nd Avenue N. They plan artist housing, with 80 percent of units renting at prices affordable to people making half or a little more than the area’s median income.

‘High degree of difficulty’

He’s hoping wood floors and plentiful southern windows in the other half of the block lure office tenants in creative businesses. Wellington may help that vibe by keeping some of the colorful interior graffiti added when the vacant building drew squatters.

“There’s a lot of creative ingenuity that went into it,” Wellington said. “It adds character to the substance of the building.”

But the project won’t be easy. First, Wellington needs to persuade the city to alter the high-density residential zoning sufficiently to allow office use. There’s pollution from when the property was used for dry cleaning, and a century ago, to make asbestos pipe covering.

Besides that contamination that permeates much of the Bassett valley, which is largely a filled wetland, there are unstable soils in many areas that impose higher footing costs, and a high water table. That means it will be a challenge to add underground parking for high-density development — a necessity to pay for the cost of soil improvements.

“This is a high degree of difficulty for us,” Wellington said. “That’s part of the reason we wanted to take on the project. It feels like it could be rewarding.”


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