An ambitious environmental project to improve Minnehaha Creek is taking a big step forward this week in Hopkins.

The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District will finalize a deal of nearly $15 million Friday to acquire almost 17 acres of industrial property. The parcel, at 325 Blake Road N., contains cold-storage buildings from the 1950s that border one of the most degraded sections of the popular creek.

The plan is to tear down the buildings when current leases expire in three years, or earlier if tenants find other space, district spokeswoman Telly Mamayek said. The district would then restore native plants along 1,000 feet of shoreline and provide enough green space to protect the creek from runoff, she said.

The plan also would build canoe landings and redirect stormwater so that it's filtered before entering the creek.

"Right now, all the gunk that gets carried by stormwater down the gutters and into the storm drains goes right into the creek," Mamayek said.

Minnehaha Creek flows for 22 miles from Lake Minnetonka through several communities west of Minneapolis. From Minnetonka and Hopkins, it meanders east through St. Louis Park, Edina and south Minneapolis to Minnehaha Falls and into the Mississippi River.

Turning back the clock

Hopkins Mayor Gene Maxwell said he is delighted with the city's partnership with the district, which is charged by state law with protecting the watershed.

"They have their goal, which is clean water, and we have our goals for redevelopment," Maxwell said. "The two are a perfect match."

The Hopkins City Council passed a resolution this month in support of the deal.

District Administrator Eric Evenson said the Blake Road project "will help us turn back the clock on the creek's neglect" and will do so in a way that minimizes costs to taxpayers. District bond proceeds will pay for the land initially, Mamayek said, with repayment through the district's watershed tax levy. Lease payments from tenants will help cover annual financing costs until the buildings are removed. After the creek is restored, the district will recover a good portion of the purchase price by selling the rest of the property to developers identified by the city, she said.

Development possibilities

The district initially sought an easement along the creek instead of buying the property, Evenson said, but restoration would have been impossible because an extensive shipping dock and truck loading area faces the creek and extends nearly all the way to the water.

Maxwell said the property, with a cleaner creek, new plantings and walkways, would be an ideal location for senior housing and perhaps a small-business complex. The site is one block from a station stop along the proposed southwest light-rail line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, he said. "It will tie together beautifully" and help to revitalize the area, he said.

Earlier this year, the district bought and tore down two apartment buildings, two houses and an office building across the street from the cold-storage buildings. Creek shoreline there also will be improved, and the open space will become an extension of the city's Cottageville Park, Maxwell said.

The district also has restored natural curves of the creek and wetlands to improve the shoreline near Methodist Hospital and other sites in St. Louis Park.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388