As U.S. Bank Stadium and downtown Minneapolis are getting ready for the Super Bowl this February, a site in Blaine that was once a prospect for the region's NFL stadium is back on the development playing field.
In 2005, Anoka County, the city of Blaine and Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf pitched a 640-acre area near the Interstate 35W-Lexington Avenue interchange as a spot for the stadium and an accompanying $1.67 billion retail complex.
Dominated by wetlands, however, the site south of 109th Avenue NE. was hydrologically problematic for such a massive redevelopment. The Vikings abandoned the Blaine option in 2006.
The team ultimately settled on a plan to redevelop the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome site into U.S. Bank Stadium.
Now, St. Paul-based Wellington Management is talking about turning the site in Blaine into a retail-heavy project called Lexington Meadows.
Rather than sprawling across 640 acres as Wilf's proposal did, the Lexington Meadows project would be on 32 acres within an 80-acre parcel along 109th Avenue. The land has been owned since 2013 by a subsidiary of Allina Health. The rest of the acreage is designated as wetlands and would remain so under the applications submitted by Wellington to the city and Rice Creek Watershed District in late summer.
Developer Steve Wellington said he sees plenty of potential in the site in the eastern reaches of Blaine, which since 2005 has seen some of the fastest growth in the north suburban metro — especially in high-end single-family homes.
"We want something pretty special at that spot," he said. "I think Blaine is seeing more affluent demographics starting to appear in the subdivisions around Lexington Avenue, and there has already been a lot of investment in some of the nearby shopping areas and public amenities.
"The city sees this as an opportunity to attract some interesting kinds of retail, which aren't as formulaic and so reliant on typical name-brand anchors. While we don't have any specific retailers lined up yet, we're going to do it just one parcel at a time as the market in that area develops."
The concept plan calls for a grocery store along Lexington Avenue, which would supply the largest retailer in the development. As many as nine other smaller commercial buildings are shown grouped around it. This is where Wellington says emphasis would be placed on luring retailing and restaurant concepts that may be not found elsewhere in the city, specifically in its well-established commercial strip along Hwy. 65 (Central Avenue NE.).
Lexington Meadows' other big component is something that is certainly not found anywhere else in Blaine — affordable senior housing.
Wellington has reached an agreement with Plymouth-based multifamily housing developer Dominium on tentative plans for a 189-unit, four-story apartment building within the Lexington Meadows site, restricted to seniors making 60 percent or less of the area's median income.
Dominium real estate developer Nick Andersen said that while it's unusual for the builder to locate projects within larger, master-planned developments such as Lexington Meadows, it's a good fit for affordable senior units.
"We've done or are doing similar projects in suburban areas like Champlin, for instance, where even though it won't open until March, the new building there is already 70 percent leased," he said. "The demand and need for these affordable senior units are tremendous all over the Twin Cities."
However, Andersen cautioned, there remains a major caveat for the Blaine effort. Its financing is to be through city-issued bonds, which confer a 4 percent federal low-income housing tax credit for buyers. Under plans approved by the U.S. House as part of its tax reform measure now heading to a conference committee, these credits would disappear, thus imperiling many affordable housing projects.
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer based in St. Paul. He is the former editor of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Real Estate Journal.