The small pile of dirt, the golden shovels, and the VIPs in hard hats signaled the start of a Target corporate expansion that will bring about 3,000 jobs to Brooklyn Park. Beyond that, city officials hope the project will fuel their efforts to transform 1,500 acres in the undeveloped north end into a "third downtown."

Target, based in Minneapolis, already has a large presence in Brooklyn Park. With Thursday's groundbreaking for two additional eight-story buildings, the city is announcing that the north end is open for business, said Community Development Director Jason Aarsvold.

Brooklyn Park has high aspirations: Officials aim to attract a bevy of multistory corporate buildings and industrial projects along Hwy. 610 and at the end of the proposed Bottineau Transitway. They're also looking for retail and restaurants -- high on many residents' wish lists -- and a range of additional housing in that corridor.

The city of nearly 76,000 will be fully developed over the next 20 years, said Mayor Jeff Lunde. This is the last chance, he said, to do something big enough to give the city a tax base to support plans to renew and redevelop the older areas in other parts of the city.

Trying to be selective

It's not happenstance that Brooklyn Park has 1,500 largely contiguous acres of available undeveloped private land. Over the past decade, as potato farms along the Hwy. 610 corridor turned over for development, the city resisted filling them haphazardly, Lunde said. The result is that in some cases development "leapfrogged" over the city.

That's OK with Lunde.

"We've developed more slowly than other cities, with an eye toward getting what we want," he said. "There's always been a sense of, 'Let's get something going there,' but the city's done a really good job of saying, 'Let's hold on.'"

Brooklyn Park long has approached the area with a look to the future, waiting to take advantage of long-term plans to extend Hwy. 610 all the way to Interstate 94, and to extend bus rapid transit or light rail along Bottineau Boulevard into the north metro.

The result, Aarsvold said, is a sizable chunk of developable land close and accessible to the central city that officials hope will attract a broad spectrum of companies.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, Brooklyn Park's representative on the County Board, shared officials' enthusiasm about the convergence of transit improvements and the infusion of thousands of workers. "This could be an artery in the most ambitious sense of the word," he said at Thursday's groundbreaking, referring to the 610 corridor. "It's sort of a moment when a lot of pieces are coming together."

Still, the "third downtown" concept has been met with some skepticism.

"It's hard to imagine that other corporations will be heavily influenced in their decisionmaking in where to locate their offices on the basis of this development," said Ed Goetz, professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. "On the other hand, that kind of foot traffic and transit traffic in and out of a place would be a draw for those thinking about retail and commercial development."

Tax boost

Even with tax incentives for Target, the project that the city values at $65 million will immediately increase the tax base for Brooklyn Park, Hennepin County and the Osseo School District, Aarsvold said.

"Having a corporate campus like that, with everything it brings, including tax revenue, is going to help keep everybody's taxes lower and still allow us to deliver the types of services everyone expects," he said, noting that the intent is to narrow the gap between Brooklyn Park, which has a relatively low property tax base, and cities like Bloomington and Edina. "That's why we've been focusing on higher-intensity development. If we fail that, the services people have come to expect are going to cost more than they will in other communities, or we're not going to be able to provide them."

Dick Grones, principal and founder at Cambridge Commercial Realty, said the region already has seen a positive impact from the existing Target presence in Brooklyn Park. He credited the city and the corporation.

"It's been a good partnership between the city of Brooklyn Park and Target," he said. "They've mutually thought through a lot of things in a very interesting and professional way that's paid some dividends. The plan is actually working and moving forward."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409