Metro Transit is gearing up for a big expansion of its North Loop headquarters, anchored by a massive bus garage and a new home for the transit agency’s police department.

The plans are taking shape just beyond downtown Minneapolis, blocks away from Target Field and a proposed site for a new professional soccer stadium. Dubbed the “West Loop” by local architects, the largely industrial area has drawn a lot of attention from planners and developers who believe light rail and other amenities make future growth there inevitable.

But the campus’ second bus garage, which has been in the works for many years, eventually will become a component of that broader development puzzle once it is built — possibly by 2018.

The 10-acre project is expected to cost more than $100 million after buying the land, said agency spokesman Howie Padilla.

The agency is simultaneously hoping to consolidate some existing facilities in the new garage and make its 24-acre Heywood campus generally more inviting to walkers, in part by hiding some of the parking that now dominates the streetscape. The Fred T. Heywood office building along 6th Avenue N. is surrounded by a sea of parking, in contrast to the dense new development springing up around the nearby Target Field Station.

“The environment around campus is changing quickly,” Metro Transit planner Pierce Canser told Metropolitan Council members earlier in June. “In order to continue to be a good neighbor, the campus must re-imagine its edges so it more fully integrates into its surroundings.”

Canser said a new police department headquarters on 6th Avenue N. — the department is currently located on Minnehaha Avenue in south Minneapolis — will create a “strong face” to the nearby light-rail station. The rearrangement may also leave a key parcel of land facing N. 5th Street, now an employee parking lot, available for private transit-oriented development. The land is just down the street from a booming intersection, where a 78-unit apartment complex and Be the Match office building are rising beside the brand-new Junction Flats apartments.

David Frank, North Loop neighborhood president and city economic development director, said the possible development site is zoned for ultradense use — making it ideal for a larger building.

So how does one of Minneapolis’ most popular neighborhoods for new apartments feel about a bus garage consuming so much land? Frank says they’re OK with it largely because of the size of the block, which once housed a large Ragstock store.

“If these were small blocks, and they were proposing to buy them up and clear them and vacate streets it would be a pretty different story,” Frank said. “But these are already gigantic blocks where you can’t get through and it’s unclear what else you would do with them.”

He added: “This is a neighborhood that’s so pro-transit that we don’t mind having the impacts of that next to where we live.”

Architects at UrbanWorks, which has sketched a grand vision for the West Loop (a term they created) say the plan does not conflict with their hopes for the area. Consolidating some facilities on the garage site is an opportunity to “get the buildings and streets right,” said Neil Reardon with UrbanWorks.

The police facility will be constructed first, with that project anticipated to be complete in November 2017. The bus garage, dubbed Heywood II, could finish the following summer. Land acquisition for the garage, which began in 2006, is nearly complete.

The garage will hold about 180 active buses, which will help alleviate a growing storage problem. Metro Transit lacks the capacity at five garages to store its existing fleet, yet it has plans to expand services in the next several years.

Between the bus garage and police headquarters, it’s expected that another 800 people will be working at the Heywood campus by 2020, according to the recent Met Council presentation.

While the West Loop is an industrial area now, it could one day be surrounded by light-rail stops that may attract housing, office or retail development. The proposed Southwest line features a stop at Royalston, beside the city’s farmers market just south of the Heywood campus. The proposed Bottineau line, meanwhile, would stop several blocks west of the existing bus garage at Van White Memorial Boulevard.

 

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