Economy, rail service shifting plans for office space and housing
BRYN MAWR — Uncertainty in the economy and the need to plan for future commuter rail service to Minneapolis are altering the redevelopment vision for Bassett Creek Valley, a largely industrial area west of Downtown.
Word that Hennepin County was eyeing a parcel in Bryn Mawr’s portion of the valley as a spot to park commuter railcars prompted concerned Harrison residents — who also have a significant stake in redevelopment — to call a community meeting Jan. 7. Harrison neighborhood leaders warned continuing industrial uses in the valley could jeopardize plans for office buildings and housing.
The recent recession may have a more significant impact on the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan, a 25-year redevelopment plan adopted by the City Council in 2007. Ryan Companies, granted five years of exclusive development rights to a portion of the valley in 2008, is facing a very weak market for new office space.
“Two years ago, we would have hoped for breaking ground in 2011 or 2012,” Vice President for Development Rick Collins said. “At this point, I am unwilling to make a prediction, but I feel quite confident it won’t be as early as 2011.”
Now, the city is reconsidering its schedule for relocating the impound lot, another unsightly land use considered a possible impediment to redevelopment. With some improvements, it may remain in place for another decade or longer, said Beth Grosen, senior project coordinator for Community Planning and Economic Development.
“Everything has been shifted back, and we need to look at these major regional needs, such as rail storage, in the bigger picture,” Grosen said.
Planning for rail
Anticipating as many as six commuter rail lines could connect to Minneapolis in the coming decades, Hennepin County is studying three sites near the Downtown intermodal station where trains could layover during the day. Those sites include: Cedar Yards near Kenwood and Lowry Hill; a space west of The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis; and Linden Yards East, a narrow, 13-acre parcel in Bassett Creek Valley adjacent to Interstate 394.
Hennepin County Senior Administrative Manager Dean Michalko expected the study to be released in June. Although the study won’t identify a favorite, the layout of Linden Yards West and its proximity to the intermodal station — located near Target Field — were two significant advantages, Michalko said.
In January, city staff was preparing a plan to negotiate a sale of Linden Yards East to Hennepin County by the end of the year. The recommendation likely will go to the City Council in February, Grosen said.
She said the city would work with Ryan Companies and the county to retain air rights over the site. The discussion is reviving an idea Ryan Companies once considered too expensive: raising development above Linden Yards East on a massive pedestal, or a “plinth,” in architectural terms.
Ryan Companies once proposed raising buildings, streets and green spaces above Linden Yards’ unstable soil with a plinth running parallel to I-394, but in 2008 dropped the idea due to its cost. A “more moderate approach,” elevating only portions of the site, may prove feasible, Collins said.
At the January meeting in Harrison, Collins said Ryan Companies asked the county to delay planning until “absolutely necessary” the rail storage site, so that plans for a plinth and building could be developed.
Ryan Companies’ first office buildings likely will go up in Linden Yards West, a 10-acre parcel also adjacent to I-394. Construction won’t begin, though, until the Ryan has a deal with a corporate tenant, Collins said.
With no project on the horizon, it’s hard to justify the expense of relocating the impound lot, Grosen said.
She estimated relocating the lot would cost about $16 million. The sale of the land was expected to fetch only about $2 million, leaving the city with a $14 million gap.
Instead, she said, the city may move ahead with long-deferred building improvements, including an expanded public lobby and new restrooms. In addition to some landscaping work, the project was estimated to cost $1 million, she said.
Moving the Public Works concrete crushing operation in the Linden Yards area may also prove difficult. The city could find space in one of the few remaining industrial areas within city limits, or it could contract out for the work at an estimated cost of $600,000 per year, Grosen said.
Vida Ditter, a Bryn Mawr resident who has worked on valley redevelopment planning for more than a decade, said relocating the impound lot, at least, should be a high priority. Many believe new office tenants will not want the lot outside their window.
“Every dollar you pour into improving the place makes it that much more expensive to move,” Ditter cautioned.
Grosen said if, in another five years, there was a lack of progress in the valley, the entire master plan may have to be reconsidered. In January, though, she remained hopeful.
“This is a very unique area, very close to Downtown Minneapolis, and I am hopeful that we really will be moving to implement the plan and see substantial investment in this area,” Grosen said.