Bryn Mawr’s Fruen Mill renovation complicated by access problem

In the northern corner of the Bryn Mawr neighborhood sits Fruen Mill, an old cereal processor built in the late 1800s. Broken windows, overgrown weeds and graffiti mar the structure, which has been abandoned for 35 years.

However, Fruen Mills is about to be reborn. Paul Fry, owner of Frich Development, recently purchased the three-acre site and plans to retain the original mill structure and turn it into condominiums.

Located at Glenwood & Thomas avenues in Basset Creek’s valley, the six-story building will contain 60 units. The mill’s two grain silos will have several floors with one unit per floor. Windows will be punched into their concrete exteriors and will offer a 360-degree view of the city and surrounding areas, with a city skyline view visible above the second floor. The development is only a few blocks away from Theodore Wirth Park. Units will range from $250,000 to over $1 million.

However, the project is not without its hurdles — primarily access.

To get to Fruen Mills, one must cross two sets of railroad tracks. The Canadian Pacific Railroad, whose eight-car train passes the mill once a day, has granted passage, but Burlington Northern Railroad has not. Their tracks, about 30 yards from the site, are open to employees of Glenwood Inglewood Spring Water Co. but not Fry’s potential tenants.

Thus, Fry is searching for a different route to his property. One idea is to build a road from Glenwood Avenue’s north side, have it cloverleaf beneath the Glenwood overpass and cross over Basset Creek via a bridge Fry would build.

Fry is currently negotiating the prospect with the Minneapolis Park Board, which owns the land.

There are other players, too.

The site sits on Bryn Mawr’s border with the Harrison neighborhood. Fry hopes both neighborhood associations will recommend that the City Council approve the new road, should it be his only option.

The Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association (BMNA) supports the mill redevelopment but is reserving judgment on the access issue, said Vida Ditter BMNA’s neighborhood organizer. "It is getting to be a sticky issue. Access is a concern of the neighborhood and they want Fry to examine all options," she said.

Despite the access problem, Fry has hired the architectural firm of Meyer, Scherer and Rockcastle to design the renovated mill.

"It’s a fabulous site, and we are very excited about it," said Fry, a Lowry Hill resident. "The architects also did the Mill City Museum, and they have a cutting-edge design. We want to do a new development, but not to the point that we take away all of the mill’s history.

Architect Mike Madden said the Fruen Mill offers creative opportunities. "We are going to keep the old identity of the mill while recognizing that the land and building now has a new purpose," Madden said. "We’re going to breathe new life back into the site."

In addition to housing, there are plans to stabilize the creek banks to protect them from an emerging erosion problem. Also proposed is a public picnic area with an interpretative center explaining the site’s history, as well as a footbridge spanning the creek to connect residents to the interpretative area. Fry says he will pay for the bridge.

The development’s entrance will be open area between the mill’s east and west wings, where Canadian Pacific trains were once loaded.

Craig Van Nuland, who lives nearby on Glenwood Avenue, said he supports the project. "They have to do something with the mill, either take it down or rehab it. If they built condos, I’d be happy about it," said the four-year resident. "There is a lot of stuff going on with kids, drinking and fighting and hanging out there. There are homeless people there, too."