A new vision for Lyn-Lake

With work on his Aldrich Avenue apartment project scheduled to begin this month, developer Arnie Gregory shares his plan for connecting Lyn-Lake and Uptown

THE WEDGE – An apartment building, a duplex, a single-family home, an abandoned gas station and a former school building along the 2900 block of Aldrich Ave. are scheduled to topple this month to make way for developer Arnie Gregory’s $50 million apartment complex.

The city-approved project includes two six-story buildings, 242 housing units and 14,500 square feet of retail space. While construction is underway this summer, Gregory and his team at Minneapolis-based Greco Real Estate Development will be hashing out the details of a neighboring development slated to replace a few dilapidated buildings on the neighboring block.

Planned as a $35 million–$45 million office and retail development between Aldrich and Lyndale Avenues, the second project could bring 350 new daytime employees to an area starved of afternoon traffic, Gregory said.

He said his developments should help rejuvenate and link Lyn-Lake and Uptown. A streetcar proposal Gregory dreamt up after a visit to Portland, Ore. could strengthen the connection.

Restoring Uptown

Gregory said the Uptown area is in the worst shape he’s seen it since starting work in the Twin Cities about 25 years ago.

“When I moved here in 1982, we lived by Loring Park and went to Uptown all the time,” he said. “I think it was a more eclectic and vibrant place then than it is today. The neighborhood has struggled a little over the course of time. Some new development would help alleviate the stagnation.”

Gregory has developed numerous projects in the Twin Cities area, including Heritage Landing Downtown and Village at St. Anthony Falls in Northeast Minneapolis. Uptown is new territory for him.

Some businesses in the area have struggled recently. Stalwarts including Gap, Borders Books, Global Village and clothier Josi Wert have closed, leaving behind vacant spaces.

Gregory wants to reverse the trend.

He said the idea of Uptown being Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street is outdated. The Lyn-Lake area is also commonly referred to as Uptown, he said, but it lacks a strong connection to the Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street area. The nodes are separated by a lack of business and residential density and limited transit.

His developments, along with other upcoming projects such as the condo, hotel and business complex Mozaic planned for Lagoon and Fremont Avenues, can help fill the void and bring more people into the area, Gregory said.

Robert Sorenson, owner of Bobby Bead at 2831 Hennepin Ave. and a member of the Uptown Association board, said retail has been slow throughout the area, and a stronger tie between Uptown and Lyn-Lake might provide a boost. Some of the blocks between the nodes seem “totally dead,” he said, offering little incentive for people to make the trip from one area to the other.

“It’s almost too far of a walk for most people,” said Sorenson, who noted that he rarely makes the jaunt himself.

Bryant-Lake Bowl owner Kim Bartmann, whose property neighbors Gregory’s apartment site, said Uptown needs more than increased development to restore its vigor.

“It’s stagnant because there’s no longer an eclectic mix of businesses,” she said. “It needs a mix of rental rates and owner-occupied stores.”

John Meldahl, a member of the Lyn-Lake Business Association board, said Gregory’s proposal to bring daytime jobs to the area is welcome. He said he would like to see Lyn-Lake thriving around the clock.

“Our nighttime activity is robust, but our daytime activity is sluggish,” Meldahl said.

Sonja Hayden, president of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LEHNA), said the group rejected Greco’s initial proposal for a development in the area. First proposed as a much larger condominium and mixed-use project – with the possibility of a hotel at one point – Greco scaled back the project significantly.

LEHNA supported the apartment complex, which steps back in height near the Midtown Greenway. Hayden said the area needs more apartments, but the new development is not without its drawbacks, such as the loss of one affordable family home.

Hayden, who runs duplex restaurant at 2516 Hennepin Ave., said Uptown and Lyn-Lake could both benefit from the daytime crowd Gregory’s second project might bring to the area, but she has yet to see the details.

Gregory said he intends to share his plans for the second development with neighborhood groups when the specifics are ready.

He has also been involved in the city’s Uptown Small Area Plan development, contributing his vision for the area at focus group meetings. Lyn-Lake is not included in the plan, but some residents thought it should have been.

Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG) board member and Zoning Committee chairman Aaron Rubenstein was one of them. He said Uptown and Lyn-Lake are both similar commercial nodes.

“I think it’s very important to look at the two of them together in terms of planning,” he said.

City Council Member Ralph Remington (10th Ward) said a separate land-use plan would be developed for Lyn-Lake starting this fall, but the area isn’t being ignored during the Uptown planning process.

Mike Lamb, an associate with Cunningham Group Architecture, which is developing the Uptown plan with the city, said additional development between Lyn-Lake and Uptown would strengthen the nodes’ connection. As the development discussions continue, so do conversations about how people are going to get around the area.

Streetcar dreams

Gregory envisions a street car “circulator” that would travel between Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues via 29th Street and Lake Street.

A September trip to Portland, Ore. gave the developer a glimpse of that city’s rail system, and he returned inspired to do something similar in Uptown, where, he said, comfortable and efficient transportation is lacking.

The circulator concept is purely in a dream phase, but Gregory said it would benefit the area’s restaurants, theaters and retail stores by making transit quick and easy. He said the streetcar could be feasible as a publicly and privately funded project.

“You’ve got to think about it small for it to be believable,” Gregory said. “There isn’t any area that could handle it as well as Uptown.”

Charleen Zimmer, project manager for Access Minneapolis, a citywide streetcar feasibility study that is underway, said the city has talked informally with Gregory about his vision, but it hasn’t become part of the study. One of the potential streetcar routes the study has evaluated is along the Midtown Greenway, Zimmer said.

Tim Springer, director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, said rail transit in the greenway would be faster than on the street. But he said its possible for a streetcar system to coexist with rail in the greenway.

Zimmer said the largest challenge for any rail project would be scraping together the dollars to make it happen. Most streetcar systems are paid for with a combination of public and private funds, and cost $25 million-$30 million per mile, on average, she said.

“The biggest unknown is whether we can put a funding package together,” she said.

Streetcar dreams have circulated the Uptown area for years. Hayden said she has envisioned a rail system linking Uptown, Lyn-Lake and Downtown. At a recent Uptown Small area Plan meeting, a rubber-tired Uptown circulator was discussed.

Gregory said he’s just glad the conversations about development and alternative transit are happening. He hopes to keep the wheels turning.