Beginning May 31, Hennepin County residents can easily shop for a new dress or grab a caramel latte on their way to renew their driver’s licenses.
The county’s Edina service center — a one-stop shop for licenses, renewals and notaries public — is moving from its longtime home at the Southdale Library complex to Southdale Center, between J.C. Penney and Herberger’s in the mall.
The service center is the first of three county agencies to decamp. The complex’s courthouse will move to Bloomington in 2018, and the library will likely inhabit a new building on the same eight-acre site in 2019 or 2020, according to county officials.
The county picked the mall location because it’s just three blocks from the previous center, said Kathy Schons, service center division manager for Hennepin County. With its main-level entrance, it’s easy to find in the mall and accessible to bus routes and plentiful parking.
“The concept of having service centers in a mall isn’t new,” Schons said. “So it didn’t feel strange to us when we were considering it early on.”
Edina’s service center was at Southdale decades ago, and Ridgedale Center once housed a similar facility, Schons added.
“I believe we’re going to increase business,” Schons said, referring both to the mall and the service center. “I think it’s a great partnership.”
The service center already does 11,000 transactions a year.
It’s difficult to compare the cost of the new digs with the old location, since the county will lease the new space but owns the library complex, she said.
The new facility, currently under construction, will be a similar size and configured like the existing center but with a more rectangular shape.
Mixed opinions on moving
Hennepin County has been looking into relocating the courthouse for 12 years, said David Hough, Hennepin County administrator.
“What really precipitated a lot of this is weapons screening,” he said.
The existing courthouse doesn’t have space for a proper security checkpoint or waiting area, one of the courtrooms is too small and technology there is antiquated, said Mark Thompson, the assistant county administrator for public safety.
Since most people coming to the Edina courthouse are Bloomington residents, moving near the Bloomington municipal building on Old Shakopee Road makes sense, said Thompson.
Plans for the library are more tentative. The new library will probably have the same public space — about 70,000 square feet — and sit on the same site, but those decisions aren’t final, Hough said.
Renovating the existing building is too costly because of its age. “We will stay there, it’s just the form and the way we do it,” Hough said.
Customers and mall employees had different reactions to the service center’s Southdale move.
“We’ve been super slow here, so we were thinking it would give us more volume in the store,” said Fauzia Khan, a Clinique counter manager at Herberger’s. “While they’re waiting they’ll probably, you know, walk around the mall.”
Others said the center doesn’t belong among retail stores.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” said Sarah Ali, who works at White House Black Market. “I think it’s a mall and to bring the government into it … would just be too much.”
Paul Peterson has worked at the Edina service center for 20 years and is thrilled about the transition. The new environment will mean more places to eat, he said.
“We’ve been here a long time, and this building really needs some major renovation,” he said. “This was the obvious thing to do, the smart thing to do.”