The project to reopen Nicollet stretches beyond Kmart

Credit: Michelle Bruch

The project to reopen Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street could encompass more property than simply Kmart and Supervalu.

In a draft redevelopment plan prepared by city staff, the city could acquire properties north of the Midtown Greenway, including the Sunrise Cyclery building at 2901 Blaisdell, the Nicollet-Lake Self Serve Car Wash at 2900 Nicollet, and property owned by the Pho Tau Bay restaurant at 2839-2843 Nicollet Ave.

The city is working to control sites including Kmart and Supervalu to redevelop the “blighted” area and reconnect Nicollet through the area.

David Frank, the city’s transit development director, explained that when the city vacated Nicollet Avenue, neighboring property ownership grew into Nicollet’s former path, requiring the city to buy back the right-of-way.

A strip of properties north of the Greenway between Nicollet and Blaisdell are owned by a single property owner, Paul Jablonsky, who has indicated he would only be interested in selling all of his sites jointly, Frank said. Jablonsky could not be reached for comment.

Nhu-tuyet Thi Lai, owner of the Pho Tau Bay restaurant, said the city’s potential plans would not affect her restaurant.

Sunrise Cyclery owner Jamie McDonald said the bike shop is comfortable staying in place for the time.

“The city has been thinking about it for 50 years,” McDonald said. “Who knows if and when it will really happen. Right now, this is where we want to be.”

McDonald said he supports the concept of reopening Nicollet Avenue, however.

“I’ve volunteered my time to drive a semi-truck right through,” he said.

City officials are currently evaluating a redevelopment plan that outlines project objectives, potential acquisitions and the preferred land use.

Other properties located south of Lake Street between 1st and Blaisdell are also included in the redevelopment plan boundaries, although they are not flagged for city acquisition. They include the 72-unit In Town on Lake condominium at the southwest corner of Lake & Nicollet, Wells Fargo at Nicollet & 31st, and the Office Depot and strip mall at the southeast corner of Lake & Nicollet.

Frank said the additional sites are included because of the possibility of nearby transit-oriented development: a potential streetcar line along Nicollet, potential rail on the Greenway, and improved 35W access.

“It would allow any street modifications or transit improvements,” Frank said. “Hopefully when more development happens, the city can take a more active role in this.”

City staff observed evidence of “blight” in 24 of the 29 geographic parcels included in the project area. They noted deteriorating building conditions, crumbling concrete and asphalt, accumulated litter and debris, numerous police incidents at particular properties, and lack of conformance with current building codes and energy standards.

“The placement of the Kmart store that resulted in the closing of Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street is a blighting factor that impedes traffic circulation and economic activity along Nicollet, both north and south of Lake Street,” stated the staff report.

Frank said staff continue to work to secure control of the Kmart and grocery sites. He told the Whittier Alliance late last year that the city doesn’t necessarily need to own both Kmart and Supervalu, but they do need willing partners. According to meeting minutes, Kmart’s lease is in place for another 40 years. Kmart’s landowner is notorious for hanging on to properties, staff said, but did sell a Kmart in Richfield.

The redevelopment plan recommends that the land be reused for high-density residential development; or a mixed use of retail, office or residential.

At the Whittier neighborhood meeting in December, one attendee said the amount of recommended residential space is too high, given the density of residences already in the area. According to meeting minutes, another attendee said housing would be the only clear path to success, and the neighborhood would like to avoid a “‘Block E’ type fiasco.”

The city is not currently evaluating any specific development proposals for the area. City staff told the Whittier Alliance that the project has attracted retailers not currently in the area, who are very concerned with traffic and access.

The Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA) will discuss the project at its General Membership meeting on March 24, 6:30-8 p.m. at 620 W. 34th St.

“That has been one of the top priorities for the neighborhood for a very long time,” said Mark Hinds, LNA executive director. “We’ll have a conversation about what we want to see in a redevelopment here.”