One of Minneapolis' more ambitious neighborhood developments, overhauling a grim corner of Lake Street at Hiawatha Avenue S., could break ground this year.
Hennepin County officials sounded optimistic Thursday night about starting construction on the first phase of a multifaceted project that could ultimately take years to complete. The final product would include hundreds of new housing units, retail space, a new home for the Midtown Farmers Market and a county service center.
Work on the southwest corner of the intersection has additional significance because development has been lackluster around the light-rail station, despite high hopes from the community. The station remains surrounded by more than 2,700 stalls of parking, covering about 18 football fields of space.
Ultimately, it took the county's help to get a project off the ground. The county committed $54.5 million in November to acquire the 6.5-acre site from Minneapolis Public Schools and develop a service center and 406-space parking structure. About $9 million of those costs is ultimately expected to be recouped through land sales to a private developer.
The first phase is more modest than the grand vision for the site, illustrated in new renderings shown Thursday night. It includes a hub for county health and human services — part of a strategy to migrate the services from downtown Minneapolis — plus 100 units of market-rate housing, a new transit plaza, ground-level retail on Lake Street and a self-help bike repair shop.
Jack Borman with BKV Group, part of L&H Station Development, compared the project to "what's happening all over the country today," with a combination of mixed-use housing, transit and public civic space.
Michael Noonan, the county's real estate manager, said it is hoped that ground can be broken on the first phase this summer. "Our goal would be to be open for business late , early ," Noonan told residents packed into what is now an adult education center on the site.
While the first phase would bring retail vibrancy to a stretch of Lake Street now covered by a retaining wall, other components may take years to materialize. That includes a new plaza — including an amphitheater in renderings — to house the Midtown Farmers Market.
Max Musicant, a consultant on the project, told the audience that the plaza could ultimately take three to eight years to materialize. In the meantime, the market will operate in a parking lot slightly east of its current location.
Later phases include another 410 units of housing with a mix of unit sizes and prices. When and if they get built depends partly on the market, Noonan said.
"If the market stays robust like it is now, we'll see great activity here," Noonan said. "But it is our goal to advance this development to fruition as quickly as we can."
He added that it also hinges on when Minneapolis Public Schools exits its building, which houses an immigrant-focused adult basic education program. The building can be occupied for another three to eight years, after which it will be demolished to make way for housng and the adjacent plaza.
School officials said Thursday that they intend to move the adult education program to a new building near South High School, combining it with a program geared toward 18- to 21-year-olds.