Developers hope to transform a little-used parcel around the Hiawatha light rail station in Minneapolis into a mixed-use project with apartments, shops, social services and a spot for a popular farmers market.
The plans, unveiled Thursday night at a packed neighborhood meeting, would remake the corner of Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue in south Minneapolis. The 6.4 acre lot holds mostly parking spaces and a building hosting Minneapolis Public Schools' adult learning classes.
The first phase of building, which developer BKV Group wants to finish within two and a half years, includes 125 rental units, at least 10,000 square feet of retail space fronting Lake Street and 100,000 square feet of office space to house Hennepin County family services.
Hennepin County is currently negotiating with Minneapolis Public Schools to buy the site at a cost expected around $7 million to $9 million. It would then sell parcels to the developer as construction begins.
This isn't the first attempt to build around Lake and Hiawatha. An earlier proposal by the same developers hit a snag last spring after the school district decided it couldn't relocate the adult learning classes quickly enough. The new plan would let classes continue at the facility in the early phases of construction, offering more time to find a permanent home for the programs.
The project will be completed in three or four phases, which will give developers more time to collect input from the community and adjust proposals, BKV Group chief executive Jack Boarman said.
The Midtown Farmers Market, however, is the heart of the entire project, Boarman said.
"Throughout the country people are living in vibrant urban neighborhoods, with the ability to have mixed use of retail, office, housing for all generations and income levels," he said. "To have the farmer's market as a real community celebration piece and a public space for that to happen is kind of a magic formula for an urban mixed-use development project."
Apartment cost a concern
Developers said the rental units would be targeted to seniors and to younger people who are just starting careers. Only two of the proposed residential buildings unveiled Thursday were labeled as "affordable housing."
While the plans presented by the developers seem to have potential, the housing affordability needs to be more clearly addressed, said Liza Guerra O'Reilly, who lives in the Minnehaha neighborhood to the south.
"If someone's only making the minimum wage can they afford the housing here on the site?" O'Reilly asked. "Can they afford these apartments, or are we creating an oasis where it creates gentrification?"
The number of affordable housing units is "up in the air at the moment," Boarman said. "I think it's going to be a ratio that is successful for this site. What the composition is of the other three phases has a lot to do with the city, has a lot to do with the financing."
The first phase of the development includes one unit of parking for each housing unit, as well as parking for offices and retail. Parking spaces will be available on the lower levels of buildings. The spaces used by Hennepin County employees during the workday will be used by farmers market shoppers on the weekend.
A neighborhood-friendly addition
Boarman said the intention is to create a bike-, transit- and pedestrian-friendly addition to the neighborhood, although some at the meeting wondered whether it went far enough, proposing that developers consider a pedestrian boulevard through the project.
Light rail and bus access are crucial to the social services piece of the development, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said. The county has been working to spread social services around the county so they're easier for residents to use, he added.
Several adults who take classes at the facility spoke up at Thursday night's meeting about the importance of preserving the classes. Robert Doty, chief operating officer of Minneapolis Public Schools, said the district is committed to finding a home for those classes, and that integrating facilities into a later phase of the development is still possible.
The Corcoran Neighborhood Organization sponsored Thursday's meeting. Its board will meet on April 10 to consider taking a position on the project.