A SuperTarget next to a cemetery might seem like an unlikely combination, but New Hope city officials are considering it as they look at ways to turn one of the city's busiest intersections into a downtown complex.

After Ryan Companies submitted a proposal at a Nov. 19 work session, city officials are ready to revive the idea of redeveloping the intersection of 42nd and Winnetka Avenues. The new plan includes more office space and commercial development than previous plans, which had more emphasis on residential development.

New Hope still has to begin talks to establish a redevelopment agreement with Ryan and determine how much, if any, financial support the city will provide. The project will also require the developer to create a city center at an intersection where two corners are taken up by a cemetery and a school district building.

"That's one of the challenges in any fully developed community," said Mayor Martin Opem.

City officials have started to require new design standards for buildings in the area to create a more cohesive, city center feel. This new plan won't try to build the city center from scratch but will take small steps to change the existing buildings.

"Most of the projects that bite off too much at one time never get anywhere," Opem said.

Original questions still remain

The city established a task force to study the area in 2000. Its recommendation included more residential development than this proposal and planned on the closing of a Kmart, which remains open. The task force plan never came to fruition. Now that the city has been approached by Ryan Companies, the original questions of what to do with the school district building and the other buildings at the intersection will have to be addressed.

Robbinsdale School District Superintendent Stan Mack, who was on the 2000 task force, said he has talked with Ryan Companies over the past year and emphasized that any move of the school district's building would have to be at no cost to taxpayers. The developer would also have to move the district's bus garage, which houses underground fuel tanks, as well as relocate underground computer networking utilities and a phone system.

But he said he is open to moving the school district buildings if, among other things, the developer can find a location that would house the bus garage and still be conveniently located.

Mack said the original task force addressed how the heavy traffic at the intersection might hinder a pedestrian-friendly city center. Over the years, he said he sees more cars driving north and south on Winnetka Avenue as an alternative to taking Hwy. 169 or Hwy. 100.

"I think people long for that street scene," he said. "But when I walk from our office building to get a sandwich, you do take your life in your hands when you're crossing that intersection."

'Cemetery certainly isn't moving'

The only corner that was not mentioned in the proposal was the southwest corner, where Gethsemane Cemetery sits. Mack said the original task force also had to deal with how to create a cohesive feel for the intersection when one corner was off limits for development.

"The cemetery certainly isn't moving anyplace," Mack said. "And that would certainly create an imbalance to a four-way connection."

Council Member Dan Stauner said he thinks the city might be more receptive to this proposal than they have been to other plans because the city won't have to take the lead on the project.

"The concept isn't something anyone is adamantly opposed to," he said. "It seems to be a viable concept, and it has potential to revitalize the heart of our city."

Lora Pabst • 612-673-4628