Edina council approves plan to remake 50th & France

Project adds density on Minneapolis’ border

The Edina Collaborative project aims to remake the 50th & France commercial district by adding new retail, residential construction and pedestrian amenities. Submitted image

With its unanimous 5–0 decision on June 27, the Edina City Council gave final approval for the 110-unit, multi-use Collaborative project at 50th & France.

The vote, on the project’s intensely negotiated financial package, means Edina has concluded its year-and-a-half-long effort to remake — or “reenergize” — the no-longer-so-suburban city’s traditional downtown. The decision was greeted with enthusiasm by most but hardly all.

The Council confirmed the financial and construction details of an earlier conversation with city Economic Development Manager Bill Neuendorf. Key dates are as follows:

— Demolition of the Hooten’s Dry Cleaners building will take place in “late July or early August,” or within the month.

— Closing on the $74.3-million deal is set for Jan. 2, 2018.

— Actual construction activity is scheduled to begin Jan. 18, 2018.

— Renovation and an additional layer of parking added on the North Ramp is to be finished by “September or October” 2018.

— The center of the project, the new underground parking facility and the 110 units of rental housing has a “delivery date” of Sept. 2019.

Over the months since the city first put out feelers for developers interested in both improving public parking and adding population and retail density to the 50th & France district (there were four proposals of some level of seriousness), neighboring businesses and residents have expressed concerns over what was frequently described as a 30-month construction process. The combination of dust, noise, lack of easy access to parking and increased traffic congestion from construction workers and equipment was, as Neuendorf conceded, “a bit of a nightmare” for those trying to live and do business up against it all.

Since early April, when several adjacent residents and business owners spoke up at a planning commission meeting, the construction schedule, which requires shifting temporary parking lots for short- to medium-stop businesses like dentist and chiropractor offices, was significantly compressed, generally to the satisfaction of those involved.

“We’re going to try very hard to open public areas, like the plaza and sidewalks, even earlier (than Sept. 2019) or as soon as possible after the work moves to the interior of the buildings,” Neuendorf said.

The hope is that construction will be far enough along and parking issues well enough resolved that disruption to the district’s critical Christmas shopping season will be minimal at worst.

One of the outliers remains Susie Hauglund, owner of the At Home and Co. interior design store and the Edina Theater and wife of Gene Hauglund, whose company introduced the first large multi-use development to the district when he built the condominium and retail project on the southwest corner of 50th & France in 2006.

Hauglund has been a persistent critic of the process, complaining again at the June 27 meeting that the project was a “done deal” from the get-go with no serious interest in public or area business input. The week before the Council’s final vote she took out an anonymous full-page ad in the Sun Current pillorying the process.

“They never wanted to hear anything from us,” she said outside City Hall after the vote. “This was going to happen no matter what any of us said.”

She left that last meeting with the not-so veiled threat to take legal action against the city for 20-year assessments levied three years ago for improvements to the business district that she says will now be torn up and replaced by The Collaborative. In response, Neuendorf and other city officials point out that the assessments in question were for new paving bricks, trees and lighting, which were installed, and improvements primarily on the much more heavily used South Ramp adjoining the Lunds and Byerly’s store. (The city intends to salvage and reuse the newer lighting fixtures from the Center Ramp behind Hoglund’s business.)

A few details of interest on the financial front:

— The cost of renovating the circa 1991 North Ramp is put at $10.7 million.

— The city has collected no taxes on the land presently occupied by the Center Ramp since the 1970s.

— $3.8 million will be shifted from the city’s so-called Centennial Lakes fund as part of the negotiations with the developers Saturday Properties and Buhl Investors to defray costs associated with the public areas.

— The developers are on the hook for $41.3 million in debt.

— The developers claim to have a list of 77 businesses interested in the retail spaces available in the project. (Overheard was one interested restaurant owner, with two other metro locations, seeking assurances from a city official that the developers weren’t going to be filling space, “with another Jimmy Johns, or stuff you can get anywhere.” He was told that did not seem at all likely.)

— The Edina Housing Foundation will loan, not grant, the project $800,000, or half of what is needed to provide the mandated affordable housing. “Neither the developers or the city wanted to buy their way out of the affordable quota,” said Neuendorf, noting that that is a fairly common practice with Edina’s upscale projects.

— The affordable units will remain such for 15 years, a period described as fairly common, with the ability to renegotiate for a longer term in the years to come.

— $10.1 million in tax increment financing was approved, something the city insists is a rare occurrence, with the last use being for 50th & France parking ramps. Up to $14.6 million in TIF money was legally possible.

The final vote was preceded by comments from the Council, including a particularly eloquent walk through the area’s history by Council Member Kevin Staunton, who said, “I get the anxiety of people in the neighborhood” but argued that disagreements and concerns withstanding, “ it is now our turn to manage the ecosystem in the area.”

Mayor Jim Hovland concurred, adding that it isn’t realistic to regard Edina as a suburb in the traditional sense anymore, and that while some are arguing that the six-story project is “too big” for the district’s “village feel,” today’s realities of population growth and lifestyle preferences require carefully considered projects like the Collaborative to infuse “energy” into areas like 50th & France, places that now have more affinity with the metropolitan core than far-flung exurbs.