Eden Prairie has its Golden Triangle; now, Woodbury is aiming for a Golden Mile.

In the face of a stark economy, plans have been proceeding to transform a 580-acre stretch of land along Interstate 94 into a complex of office buildings, manufacturing plants, warehouses, stores, parkland and more than 500 housing units.

And it's not simply the landscape that will change, the site's developer and city planners say, but it also will signal Woodbury's emergence as a major business and manufacturing hub that will rival any in the Twin Cities.

As soon as this autumn or early 2011, they are hoping the first businesses -- and, most important, jobs -- begin moving into the development called Red Rock Territory.

"From a developer's point of view, and from the city's point of view as well, one of the opportunities we see here is there's a lot of communities, particularly in the south and southwest metro, that have been able to develop these major business parks -- and they create an image and a destination," said David Carland, executive vice president of Stonehenge USA. That's the Deephaven company that has been developing the site for the past couple of years in close partnership with Woodbury city planners.

Red Rock Territory, a moniker derived from Woodbury's original territorial name, entails nearly 2.5 million square feet of potential building space, plus parking for thousands of vehicles.

It includes a spot for at least one corporate headquarters, an east and west business park, an industrial park, retail sites and two parks on both ends comprising 72 acres. As many as 555 housing units are envisioned. Two new city roads will be built, and a Metro Transit park-and-ride ramp for more than 500 vehicles is in the works.

No central business park, yet

Woodbury has a tradition of commercial and office development but offers no central business park like that envisioned by Carland's company.

"So we're going to try to create that brand-awareness," he said. "Woodbury has very positive connotations, metro-wide, as being a progressive community that has a high quality of life. And it's the kind of place a business owner would be proud to hang their shingle. But there aren't a lot of options right now in terms of development-ready land."

The site is owned by Dale Properties, a company started by a local family in the 1960s when William Dale began buying land along interstate highways. His son, Alan Dale, now owns the business, and Stonehenge is the company's development arm.

Woodbury's largest employers now include the Hartford Insurance Co., Assurant, Target.com and the Woodwinds Health Campus that is part of HealthEast. While those businesses are scattered around the city, Red Rock Territory would cluster businesses together southeast of the I-94/Manning Avenue interchange.

Flexibility is the byword as Red Rock Territory moves from concept to reality, said Melissa Douglas, Woodbury's senior planner. While there is no detailed blueprint for how each piece of the development will unfold, the city has completed its intensive review of the plans and the infrastructure is in place, so that any company with a building project can move in quickly.

Not a one-trick pony

And by not focusing strictly on retail or other facet of development, that flexibility makes sense economically, she added. The project's future is not staked on one narrow sector.

"From both the developer's perspective and the city's perspective, we're really trying to build in a lot of options, because we think that's not only what the current climate requires, but it's just good planning in general," she said.

From market data she has seen, Douglas said, she expects the industrial sector to come back sooner than the demand for office space.

"The idea here is that this is really true mixed use," Carland said. "Right now, the focus and emphasis on this is the business park component. We've got parklands, we've got a small housing component to it. Certainly in the future there will be a retail component to it.

"So we want to integrate all those. And from a sustainability point of view, that's also a benefit."

All the planning and infrastructure design will pay off, said Janelle Schmitz, the city's planning and economic development manager. "We're well positioned, or poised for when the economy changes -- we're ready to go."

The economy's implosion didn't halt the planning process. If anything, it has lent more urgency to the city's goal of creating jobs and bolstering the tax base.

Thinking long-term

"I think that as much as we would like to see things progress quickly, I think we recognize that this is a large area that is going to develop over time," Douglas said. "And it's been the recognition that it's a long-term project, and we're really planning for the long term -- not for our unfortunate economic conditions right now."

Both Carland and Douglas remain confident that the economy's cyclical nature will show itself again. There was a time, for example, when Woodbury struggled to attract residential developers, Douglas said. But then the city boomed. The long-term view has served the city well.

It's the same in the private sector, Carland said. "When you're basically a land-holding and land development company, it's about patience and staying power. And some of these are generational kind of plays."

The market will determine how the plan unfolds, he said. Originally conceived as a 10-year development, realistically, that now could be pushed to 20 years.

"Part of that is, frankly, the limitations of metro east," he said. "It's a great area of the metro, but it's not front and center for most of the corporate activity, which tends to gravitate toward the Bloomingtons, the Eden Prairies, the Minnetonkas."

"And we're going to change that," Douglas said.

Jim Anderson • 612-673-7199