Development update // Bulldozers and backhoes reappear in Southwest

Development in Southwest Minneapolis has slowed drastically in recent years as financing has been hard to come by for large projects.

In the last few weeks, however, a few area projects are gaining momentum and some may be completed within a year.

Here’s a look at three projects that are moving forward.

1. Big plans for 26th and Nicollet Avenue

The northwest corner of West 26th Street and Nicollet Avenue is in line for a major redevelopment, attracting new tenants to fill vacant space and also sparking the return of Thom Pham’s Azia Restaurant to its old location on Eat Street. 

First & First LLC bought the property late this summer and renovations have already begun.

The Azia building will be completely renovated, including the restaurant and 13 apartments above it, said architect Dean Duvolis of DJR Architects. There will also be some office space on the second floor.

The one-level building that used to be Hiep Thanh Market, 2534 Nicollet Ave., will be torn down to make a plaza. The two-level building behind it will be renovated and Duvolis said the development team is in talks to bring in a “major” tenant for that space. He expected to have an announcement in the next month.

Duvolis also mentioned that talks were ongoing with several other tenants for the remaining space. 

Azia could not be reached for comment. In August, owner Thom Pham moved his restaurant from the Nicollet and 26th location to 6th Street and Hennepin Avenue in downtown. He cited a problematic building for the move and has said the property was subject to frequent flooding.

Duvolis said Azia’s return to the corner would have a different concept. 

“A little bit cheaper prices, more entertainment,” he said.

2. Shovels this fall on Lake and Knox

Nick Walton and Daniel Oberpriller, owners of CPM Development, said they are likely to break ground on their five-level Lake and Knox development late this fall.

“We’re just waiting to close our financing, which should happen late this fall. As soon as that happens, there will be an immediate start for the full project,” Walton said. 

If things go accordingly, the development’s 57 one- and two-bedroom luxury apartments will be available to rent late next summer or early next fall. 

Walton and Oberpriller said their management company and Reuter Walton Construction will occupy 1,200 square feet of office space on the second level, with 500 feet remaining for rent. They said they are in talks with prospective tenants for the first-floor corner of Knox Avenue and Lake Street. They said they are targeting a restaurant or café for the 1,700 square feet available.  

There will be 93 parking spaces beneath the development. 

CPM’s apartments will offer stunning views of Lake Calhoun and Downtown Minneapolis, although their 56-foot tall building plan was a point of contention among four neighborhood groups who opposed the plan because its height exceeded recommendations from the Uptown Small Area Plan. Those neighborhood groups’ appeals to City Council were mostly rejected. 

Walton and Oberpriller said the project has not been affected by a sluggish economy or a tight lending market. 

“Everything has been positive about our project, really, the whole way through,” Walton said. “We’ve never been delayed, we’ve never slowed down.”

3. Mozaic project gets assist from federal bonding

The Mozaic development’s long, winding road toward construction got a boost in late September when the Minneapolis Planning Commission approved $11 million in tax-exempt bonds for the project made possible by federal stimulus money. 

The city will not actually lend the project’s developer, The Ackerberg Group, any money. Rather, it will allow private bonding to be exempt from state and federal taxes.  

The $11 million will help fund the first phase of a three-phase project, which needs to go back to the City Council for approval because it is being phased. In 2008 the same project was approved, but all three phases were to be done at one time. 

The first phase calls for the construction of a seven-level building behind The Uptown Drink and south of the Midtown Greenway. The first level’s 11,000 square feet would be used for a 7,000 square-foot restaurant and the remaining 4,000 square feet would be used for another restaurant or a couple of retail spaces, said the company’s chief executive, Stuart Ackerberg. 

The first phase, which totals about $37 million, also includes a plaza in the middle of the development and a pedestrian bridge over the Midtown Greenway, including a ramp from the Greenway that will allow bikers and walkers easy access to Uptown.

The six levels above the first one — the part that the $11 million would fund — is planned for 435 parking spaces. 

Ackerberg said the commercial space in phase one would create 50 to 100 permanent restaurant or retail jobs.

He said he is close to securing investors for the remaining portion of the first phase and he hopes to break ground early in 2011. 

He told the Planning Commission that the remaining two phases are on hold because of the bad economy.

The second phase calls for the construction of three more levels on top of the original seven levels, making the building 10 stories tall. Those three levels would be used for 65,000 square feet of office space.

The third phase would be constructing 100,000 feet of mixed-use space just east of the first building.

Ackerberg said the tax-exempt bonds will be helpful in securing financing in a tight lending market. 

“The recovery zone bonds are crucial because they become a long-term lender, which makes the banks more likely to give short-term loans,” Ackerberg said.

Finding financing for commercial development has been much more challenging given the state of the economy, he said.