The future, for Bassett Creek Valley, is slow to arrive

Southwest light rail uncertainties delay redevelopment plans

A rendering of the Van White Station. The arrival of light rail is viewed as the key to Bassett Creek Valley redevelopment efforts. Credit: Submitted image

BRYN MAWR — Delays and lingering uncertainty over the Southwest Light Rail Transit project have impeded redevelopment in Bassett Creek Valley.

Ryan Companies secured exclusive development rights in 2010 to a portion of the 230-acre industrial area wedged between residential Bryn Mawr and downtown. That five-year deal with the city is set to expire Dec. 31 without any redevelopment having taken place.

“We have been trying to market the site actively to a whole host of uses, and in the last few years I think we’ve turned out three to five proposals per year as groups are looking for expansion space or anything else,” said Tony Barranco, vice president of development for Ryan Companies. “Really, what we continue to hear is it’s interesting, there’s visibility, there’s other things, but it’s on its own little island and there’s nothing connecting it to other important places.”

The SWLRT project, a 14.5-mile extension of the Green Line light rail from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, promises to be that long-awaited connection. Plans call for a stop at Van White Station on the edge of Linden Yards West, the portion of Bassett Creek Valley included in Ryan Companies’ deal with the city.

For now, Linden Yards West is still being used by the Department of Public Works for outdoor storage. Beth Grosen, a senior project coordinator with Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development, said that use would end “as there is some development interest” in the site.

“The neighborhood has looked at that, what we call blight, for so many years now,” Kevin Thompson, president of the Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association, said. “And we’d like to see something better there.”

But that may still be years in the future. Planning delays have pushed back SWLRT’s opening date to 2020 at the earliest, with construction beginning in 2017. Metropolitan Council, the lead agency on the project, is still at work securing state and federal funding commitments for the $1.77-billion transit line.

The Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan adopted in 2007 by the City Council envisions a “vibrant urban village” with a mix of office, retail, housing and parks. From Ryan Companies’ perspective, it will take an “office anchor of meaningful size” to catalyze that transformation, Barranco said.

Assuming a 12- to 15-month development and construction cycle, he continued, “I don’t anticipate we’ll be talking to folks who have 2020 or 2021 requirements until probably 2018.”

Baby steps

SWLRT aside, the city’s long-term vision for redeveloping Bassett Creek Valley is advancing in baby steps.

In the 2007 master plan, the city impound lot on the northern end of the valley eventually moves and is replaced by housing and green space, including a meandering Bassett Creek. The creek now disappears into a sewer at the edge of the impound lot.

When a cost estimate for moving the lot came in at about $15 million in 2009, city staff shifted their focus to shrinking the lot’s footprint, instead. In November, the City Council endorsed that plan, which will eventually open about 10 acres to redevelopment.

The impound lot “will be smaller and it will be a better neighbor,” Grosen said.

In 2013, the opening of a $22.3-million bridge over BNSF Railway tracks and the Cedar Lake Trail completed an extension of Van White Memorial Boulevard through Bassett Creek Valley. At the time, residents of the Bryn Mawr and Harrison neighborhoods hailed the new street as a significant step toward redevelopment plans.

Both of those neighborhoods are represented on the Bassett Creek Valley Redevelopment Oversight Committee. In November, committee member Vita Ditter said the ROC wishes to continue working with Ryan Companies as the “preferred developer.”

Grosen said the city is likely to re-solicit proposals from developers in 2016 after meeting with the ROC and the neighborhoods. Barranco said the city hadn’t made a formal proposal to Ryan as of late November, but added: “We’d certainly love to be involved in a conversation about extending those rights beyond the end of this year.”

In the meantime, Met Council is refining plans for the Bottineau Transitway, another light rail project that could shape the future of Bassett Creek Valley. The 13-mile, $1.5-billion extension of Blue Line light rail from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park includes stations at Penn Avenue and Van White Boulevard, both within walking distance of the valley.

Grosen said staff is now considering changes to the land-use plans for the northern end of the valley nearest the Bottineau Transitway, with an emphasis on mixing more job-creating office and commercial uses into plans for multi-family housing. That proposal could come before the Council in 2016, she said.