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Finance & Commerce: Grants drive development along Twin Cities transit arteries

By Nancy Crotti

Met Council awards $15.4M to 17 projects

The dream of a walkable, arts-centered cultural district with a mix of housing, retail and commercial uses in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park is one step closer to fruition.

The Metropolitan Council  on Wednesday awarded the city of Minneapolis a grant of $2.7 million to jump-start the long-awaited project along the Central Corridor light rail transit line.

The Prospect Park grant is one of 17 that the council approved Wednesday for a handful of cities along major corridors for transit-oriented development. The grants, which total $15.4 million, range from $40,000 to $2.7 million apiece.

In Prospect Park, the city of Minneapolis and the Bloomington-based Cornerstone Group plan to spend $2 million to purchase the former site of sheet-metal fabricator Boeser Inc., which is behind the future Prospect Park/29th Avenue Station on the Central Corridor LRT. (Submitted rendering: The Cornerstone Group)

The program includes 94 municipalities eligible to apply for grants to make them more transit- and pedestrian-friendly, said Paul Burns, manager of the council’s Livable Communities program. Communities awarded funding are Anoka, Apple Valley, Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Richfield, St. Louis Park and St. Paul. The council did not approve two grants totaling $750,369 to the city of Ramsey.

“Especially given the council’s recent investment in the several transit corridors, we felt that, without taking money away from our regular Livable Communities programs, we could kind of have a win-win,” Burns said. “We could help support the transit investment and help the participating communities along those corridors to accomplish some of their transit-oriented goals.”

The committee revised previous estimates of the grants’ economic impact, concluding that they would yield 653 affordable housing units, 593 market-rate housing units, 1,000 construction jobs and another 1,000 full- or part-time jobs in the developed areas. The grants also are expected to spur $32 million in other public investment, $240 million in private investment and $400 million in taxable market value, the committee estimated.

The grants would help with development along light rail and high-frequency bus routes such as the Cedar Avenue bus rapid transit (BRT) line, the Interstate 35W BRT, the Central Corridor light rail transit (LRT) line, the Hiawatha LRT, Northstar commuter rail line and the proposed Southwest Corridor LRT.

Two of the three largest grants went to proposed stations along the Central Corridor LRT line: the Prospect Park Station Boeser site ($2.7 million) and the Hamline Station in St. Paul ($2.5 million). Another $2 million grant went to a site at Penn and Broadway in Minneapolis, which was heavily damaged in the May 2011 tornado and could be part of the proposed Bottineau Corridor.

In Prospect Park, the city of Minneapolis and the Bloomington-based Cornerstone Group plan to spend $2 million to purchase the former site of sheet-metal fabricator Boeser Inc. The property is at 2901 Fourth St. S.E., behind the future Prospect Park/29th Avenue Station on the Central Corridor LRT.

The plan is to redevelop the site into 250 units of energy-efficient rental housing, with 20 percent of them affordable units. The project is part of a larger master plan by the city and the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association to design housing for intergenerational residents, reduce automobile use and create the cultural district. The rest of the grant, or $720,307, would be used for asbestos and lead-based paint abatement.

“This grant allows us to gain site control of a critical site at this station area,” said Colleen Carey, president of the Cornerstone Group. “In the end, this station area will hopefully have a nice transit plaza and a couple of public buildings.”

Minneapolis city planners see the Prospect Park site as ideal for a mixed-income development because it will give residents quick access via the LRT to the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis as well as to downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, said Tom Streitz, director of housing and policy development for the city of Minneapolis.

“We feel like the Met Council, their recent grant and programs fit very well with Minneapolis’ plans and views in building out our corridors, building along transportation lines,” Streitz said.

Encouraging economic development and job growth along transit corridors is a priority of the Met Council, according to a statement by Chairwoman Susan Haigh.

“Expanding the number of people who live and work on major transitways ensures we make better use of our resources, expanding opportunities for all,” she said. “Across the country, employers are seeking to locate in areas where their employees enjoy a high quality of life that includes easy access to the workplace and the resources they need to fulfill their duties. These grants will help cities attract major employers who will bring jobs that metro residents are eager to fill.”

The Penn and Broadway project would include the acquisition of land at 2413, 2419 and 2423 Penn Ave. and 2508 and 2512 Queen Ave. and the construction of a building with 16,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor with up to 75 units of affordable rental housing and shared parking on the upper three floors. A new transit stop at the northwest corner of Penn and Broadway would be designed to accommodate BRT and bike commuters.

The project proposed adjacent to the Hamline Station in St. Paul includes the $24 million development of two four-story, mixed-use buildings connected by underground parking and a central public plaza that will serve as a “pocket park” and break up the long expanse of street facade.

The Minneapolis nonprofit Project for Pride in Living will develop the buildings to replace the former Midway Chevrolet at 1389 University Ave. W., offering 108 units of affordable housing and 13,700 square feet of commercial space. The $2.5 million grant includes about $1.8 million for land acquisition, $500,000 to clean up contaminated soil and structure, and $192,000 for utility line relocation in the alley.

“Typically, PPL looks to develop units for families, so there’ll be a good portion of these units that will be two to three bedrooms,” said Sara Garry, director of fundraising and communications for PPL. “We really are hoping to complete financing for the project by the end of the year 2012 with anticipated construction in the spring or summer of 2013.”

Other St. Paul projects include:

$2 million for construction of senior housing and nursing care units by Episcopal Homes at 1890 University Ave., the former Porky’s drive-in site;
$979,100 for a mixed-use development called Central Exchange at 771-785 University Ave.;
$412,521 for adaptive reuse by Minneapolis apartment developer Dominium of the brew house tower at the Schmidt Brewery on West Seventh Street.

Episcopal Homes is acting as developer for its project, adjacent to its existing Iris Park Commons assisted living facility and nursing home at 1850 University Ave. W.

The nonprofit is assembling $32 million for the seven-story building, with construction scheduled to begin in spring 2013. It will include a 1,500-square-foot coffee shop with outdoor seating on the corner of University and East Lynnhurst Avenue, said Chief Executive Officer Marvin Plakut. “This is huge,” Plakut said of the Met Council grant.

“All the projects are important to us,” said Cecile Bedor, director of the St. Paul Office of Planning and Economic Development. “These are kind of the first projects out of the chute on Central Corridor and really reflect the principles of transit-oriented design. We’re really pleased that the committee recognized this as well.”

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