Crane company move lifts Urban Village obstacle

A stumbling block that’s held up three blocks of redevelopment in Lowry Hill East (Wedge) for more than three years has finally given way.

The Minneapolis Community Development Agency signed a purchase agreement for between $90,000 and $350,000 for the Sowles Crane Co. land, 2813 Bryant Ave. S. The MCDA plans to sell the property to developers to build a 190-unit housing project called Urban Village, to be built on the north side of the Midtown Greenway between Aldrich and Dupont avenues.

Crane’s search for a new site held up the project. Owner Dan Sowles said he is ready to close on an Eagan site.

Gay Noble, 10th Ward Councilmember Dan Niziolek’s aide, said the MCDA agreement states Sowles would begin vacating the property no later than Aug. 1, 2003. She said the MCDA hopes to begin cleaning the soil by next spring in preparation for their sale to Urban Village developers, including Ross Fefercorn’s Country Home Builders, the Sherman Lander Group and Brighton Development Corp.

Sowles said his love for Crane’s neighborhood since 1961 has made it hard to leave. "We’ve done a lot of work here," he said, noting that they helped to build every downtown high-rise, including the IDS and Norwest (now Wells Fargo) towers.

Nostalgia aside, Sowles said the move will be particularly tough for his bottom line, because Minneapolis has been their base for high-rises, which aren’t being built in the suburbs.

"We won’t have the downtown advantage of being close to work," he said, "This is going to hurt us."

MCDA project manager Bill Koncak said the groundbreaking date depends on how quickly Sowles leaves.

He said the Urban Village project is complicated and will take even more planning, with three separate developers who will probably need zoning changes. Building on the Midtown Greenway also brings in the Hennepin County Rail Authority and the State Historic Preservation Board.

Koncak said Phase I of the project will be the 2800 block from Aldrich to Colfax avenues, with the retaining wall along the Midtown Greenway.