Plans unveiled for major redevelopment of 43rd & Upton

Big changes are on the horizon at Linden Hills’ marquee business node.

Mark Dwyer, president of the Linden Hills Business Association, recently unveiled plans for a $22 million redevelopment of the 43rd & Upton corner, currently home to Minnesota’s original Famous Dave’s restaurant.

His plan involves tearing down the converted gas station that houses Famous Dave’s and an adjacent office building along Upton Avenue. Those buildings would be replaced by a five-floor, mixed-use building featuring a restaurant, five commercial spaces and a large office on the first level, with 32 to 34 one-to-three bedroom condos on the upper floors.

The condos will be priced between roughly $300,000 for a one-bedroom on the second floor to about $1 million for a top-floor three bedroom.

Dwyer said he has an option to purchase the Famous Dave’s site when the time is right. But before he seals the deal, he’ll present his redevelopment plan to the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council on June 7. If the neighborhood supports the plan, he’ll seek city approval later this summer.

Barring setbacks, construction work should begin next spring, Dwyer said.

Dwyer, an 18-year resident of Linden Hills with a background in investment banking, began thinking about redevelopment opportunities at 43rd & Upton years ago.

“You putz around the neighborhood as long as I have, and you kinda give your head a scratch and say, ‘what’s going on over there?’ You can’t help knowing that something is going to happen on a corner like this at some point,” Dwyer said.

But with the economy in recession and the parcels near the corner owned by a hodgepodge of folks, it took three years to move past brainstorms, acquire all the needed properties and start drawing up plans.

Even after he gained control over the corner parcels, Dwyer wasn’t sure the project would get off the ground.

With the housing market stagnating, it wasn’t clear there would be any demand for condos. But after a year of marketing the units strictly via word of mouth, Dwyer has already compiled a list of more than 80 prospective buyers, many of whom are empty-nesters looking to sell their single-family homes.

“There’s extreme interest in the condos from people who want to live there, and that’s what’s making this project happen now,” Dwyer said.

Brad Palacek, an Edina Realty Realtor who does a lot of business in Southwest, particularly with condos, said that while the condo market as a whole remains stagnant, there is pent-up demand for condo developments on prime urban property.

“There is certainly a trend for such projects in neighborhoods where residents have lived for a long, long time, like Linden Hills,” Palacek said.

“Empty-nesters are one of the few demographics of buyers that really have equity and money to spend, so Realtors get excited about projects like this because it means those folks will be putting their homes on the market,” he added.

Citing 43rd & Upton’s prime location in the heart of Linden Hills, halfway between 50th & France and Uptown, Dwyer anticipates similarly little trouble leasing Linden Corner’s commercial spaces.

“Everything about this location is perfect,” he said.

Linden Hills Neighborhood Council Chair Lesley Lydell acknowledged some residents will undoubtedly object to Dwyer’s vision when his plan goes before the neighborhood board on June 7.

After all, Linden Hills is a uniquely historic neighborhood, and multi-floor mixed-use developments like Linden Corner have little precedent in that part of Southwest.

Lydell said, however, that she believes “people overall are supportive of the way he approached the project — hiring local architects, using local engineers, trying to be attuned to the neighborhood’s unique values.”

Indeed, the people most intimately involved with Linden Corner have deep roots in the neighborhood. Plans for Linden Corner were developed by TEA2, an architectural firm whose office is in a converted fire station just two blocks away from where Famous Dave’s now sits. The civil engineer working on technical aspects of the project is a Linden Hills resident, and Dwyer himself lives just a few blocks away from 43rd & Upton.

Despite the built-in accountability stemming from all these local ties, Dwyer himself expects some opposition to his vision for Linden Corner.

“Some people will be mad, but I think our goal is to have even the naysayers look at this in hindsight and say, ‘wow, that turned out really nice,’” he said, citing the proposed building’s high-quality limestone and brick finish, ornate cornice and upper-floor step-backs as features distinguishing Linden Corner from other mixed-use developments in Southwest.

“You see enough development projects to know how it works. Some jerk comes into your neighborhood and tells you what they’re going to do and it’s adversarial right out of the box,” he said. “I’ve studied it enough to know I’m doing the exact opposite.”