A potential expansion of Edina’s popular 50th and France area could bring new housing, retail and parking to the upscale commercial district, considered the city’s downtown.

The Edina Housing and Redevelopment Authority last week selected a proposal to redevelop vacant properties and parking lots on W. 49½ Street, just behind the intersection of W. 50th Street and France Avenue.

Developers Buhl Investors of Edina and Minneapolis-based Saturday Properties are working with the city to finalize the deal in the next four months.

“I don’t expect to find anything that will sink the project,” said Bill Neuendorf, Edina’s economic development manager.

Construction would begin in 2018 at the earliest, he said.

The project, dubbed the Edina Collaborative, is estimated at $79 million and would give a substantial makeover to what Neuendorf says is the most expensive real estate in the city.

The developers, who live in Edina, say the proposal is a chance to expand on the pedestrian-friendly nature of the district. Many Edina events, including the Edina Art Fair and the annual Pumpkin Fest, are held there.

“We walk this area, we shop at these stores and spend time with our families in this business district,” said Brent Rogers, founder of Saturday Properties. “That really guided our concept for the redevelopment plan.”

The proposal would replace an aging parking structure and adjacent lot on the south side of 49½ Street with a six-story apartment complex containing 131 units. There would be surface-level retail stores, and parking would be built underground.

On the north side of the street, an existing parking structure would be raised to four stories and expanded to vacant lots on each side of the structure with street-level commercial space.

The alleyways that currently lead to the back entrances of businesses on 50th Street would also connect to a new public plaza.

“That’s the single most exciting part of our proposal,” said Pete Deanovic, founder of Buhl Investors. “That’s what adds so much charm to that area of town.”

Decision is first step

Neuendorf called the proposal selection the first step in a lengthy process. City officials and developers will prepare a business deal, act to rezone some of the parcels and update the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) in late February.

The HRA, which owns a handful of parcels on 49½ Street, for years has looked to add more than a hundred parking spots. The selected proposal adds 305 new spots.

The city saw the Buhl/Saturday proposal as a realistic upgrade that embraced the idea of a public gathering space while adding new commercial space, Neuendorf said.

“50th and France is a shopping district. It’s not a parking district,” he said. “The thing that is front and center should be business.”

Rachel Thelemann, the executive director of the 50th & France Business & Professional Association, said mixed-use buildings would open up the district to more customers.

“If it means housing and more parking to the area, that will be very great for our district. It will help bring that area a little more foot traffic,” she said.

Aside from the parking structure, the north side of the street has a post office, Walgreens and Bespoke Hair Artisans, a hair salon. Bespoke owner Lisa Williams said she was happy the city selected an option.

“I think it’s going to be really important that they keep the area to smaller, boutique-type businesses,” Williams said. “I hope they will do that and not bring in big-box retailers.”