Hiawatha LRT development could bode well for Central Corridor

Purina mill
The former Purina mill at 38th and Hiawatha in south Minneapolis is set for demolition and redevelopment by St. Paul-based Capital Growth Real Estate that will include housing and retail.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Paul Kludt started out in l951 building homes.

Fifty-seven years later the veteran construction company owner and developer has warehouses, offices, hotels, apartment buildings and more all around the Twin Cities. The Hiawatha line, Kludt said, attracts him and other developers because it attracts riders using the line to get to work.

"It takes a few minutes to get to downtown Minneapolis or the airport or the Mall of America and so those are areas that are job oriented areas so that's why we went there," he said.

Developer Paul Kludt
Veteran Twin Cities construction company owner and developer Paul Kludt says construction of light rail is the reason his company has invested millions in building hundreds of market rate apartments along Hiawatha avenue and will build more in the area of the neighborhood photograph he holds.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

'There' is Hiawatha avenue in south Minneapolis.

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Paul Kludt has invested millions building hundreds of apartments here near the Hiawatha light rail line.

Kludt is betting millions more on new development not just here but along other rail lines including the Northstar commuter rail link from Big Lake to the Twin Cities and the southwest corridor through St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Eden Prairie.

He's guessing traffic congestion will cause more people to kick their car commuting habit once a rail alternative is available.

And he wants to have housing ready for them near rail stations.

"We're trying to follow the lines wherever they go because we do think that people are having a hard time with the freeways and they'll pay a premium to get on some of those areas," Kludt said.

Further down the Hiawatha line in Bloomington, St.Paul-based McGough Development is betting hundreds of millions of dollars on the same idea.

Community Council board chairman Ed Leaf
Longfellow Community Council board chairman Ed Leaf says the decades old Archer Daniels Midland mill and neighboring General Mills facility are likely to remain a part of the neighborhood's plan for future development around the Hiawatha avenue light rail line.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

The company's Bloomington Central Station project near the Mall of America includes office, hotel, retail and high density living all in walking distance. However, the Twin Cities is a prime example of a metropolitan area where most residents have rejected density and staked their claims in far flung suburbs with lots of elbow room.

But attitudes are changing, said Larry Lee, the development director for the city of Bloomington.

Young people, the Seinfeld and Friends sitcom generation, have grown up watching people on the tube who live close together, Lee said.

"That's what's made that type of living go beyond acceptable to preferable for my daughter's generation," he said.

Bloomington is planning to change how the car fits into it's future assuming transit expands, he says.

"Breaking up the large superblocks in the area to smaller blocks so it can be more connected," Lee said. "Shared parking so that people arrive once so they can walk from one place in the district to another."

Yes you read that right.

St. Paul developer Dale Joel
St. Paul developer Dale Joel says the presence of light rail is one reason he is planning a $50 million apartment and retail development at 38th Street and Hiawatha avenue in south Minneapolis' Longfellow neighborhood.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Transit oriented development, ironically, still depends to a degree on car culture.

Developer Dale Joel explained it this way.

Joel and his partners from St. Paul-based Capital Growth Real Estate want to build a $50 million project along the Hiawatha light rail line in south Minneapolis.

It'll be housing and retail.

For the retailers to make money and be attractive enough to draw shoppers including train riders and neighbors the project also needs parking to attract drivers, Joel said.

"The parking provides the opportunity for the retail to survive that supports the pedestrian dream we're trying to create," he said.

Where transit-oriented development finds both support and opposition is the neighborhoods it is intended to serve.

Longfellow neighborhood activist Ed Leaf, who lives in south Minneapolis, is all in favor of higher density transit oriented development.

He also treasures his peace and quiet.

"You know, I don't want it right next door to me, I have a single family home," Leaf said. "In certain areas it makes sense."

Leaf and his Longfellow neighbors along with the city, have convinced developer Dale Joel to dramatically scale back plans from 360 apartment units to 197 for the transit-oriented development planned for 38th street and Hiawatha avenue.

Assume the economy recovers and the credit crunch eases but energy costs remain high. The result may be more people willing to live closer together in neighborhoods that allow them to keep the car parked and ride a train or a bus.

That's the pattern beginning to emerge along the Hiawatha line in Minneapolis and a pattern backers of the Central Corridor project hope will emerge along University avenue.