West River Commons (Still) Sets a High Bar for Minneapolis

In a recent streets.mn post, one commenter was accused by another of being paid by Michael Lander and loving Michael Lander. Allow me to show you why I believe we need more projects by developers like Michael Lander. Like it or not, Minneapolis, development is happening, and we need to encourage more talented developers who have an eye for creating or renovating a building with sensitivity to its surroundings, who place value on a building’s relationship to the street. We need more developers like Michael Lander and we need to make their job easier.

So let’s take a look at a project that, quite deservedly, is held up as a model for good development principles for Minneapolis. West River Commons is located at East Lake Street and the West River Road. Let’s go there now.

Main Photo - SE

The first image (above) shows the building from the intersection of East Lake Street and West River Road. This is what you see coming across the Lake Street Bridge – a mixed-use building, three to four stories in height, with 56 residential units and 8,000 square feet of retail. Set on just over an acre, this is density of 50 units per acre. This is exactly the type of infill development the city’s comp plan asks for.

Retail Frontage

Here is a closer look at the retail space. 8,000 square feet is enough for a restaurant, coffee shop, gift shop and take and bake pizza. Importantly, retail doesn’t line the entire face of Lake Street. There isn’t too much of it, and what there is faces the busiest corner of the development (and the Mississippi River and parkway). Signage is scaled to the pedestrian and not to cars racing by. Also very important is the design details, particularly how the retail space includes large windows and doors facing the sidewalk. These retail spaces are designed so tenants can come and go over time but still have a high-quality pedestrian presence.

Plaza-Sculpture

The plaza is something special. It is intimate and not too large. Technically private property, it feels public, with multiple ways to access it on foot. The restaurant (Longfellow Grill) is in a space very much designed for a sit-down restaurant that frames the plaza well, including outdoor tables. Dunn Bros patio seating is informal and part of the plaza. The restaurant patio is clearly delineated from the plaza without feeling barricaded off. The plaza has kneewalls that are the right height for sitting, and the sculpture is in the middle, allowing kids to run around it. Overall the plaza is an excellent place for formal dining, a cup of coffee, waiting for a table, events like beer tastings, and just hanging out.

Walk Outs

Rather than line the street with retail, which risks higher vacancy and also requires more off-street parking, West River Commons has something novel: walk-out residential units facing Lake Street. I’m not aware of too many other residential units with direct access to the street. I suppose the whole of Lake Street doesn’t need to be commercial, but it should be pedestrian-friendly, and this achieves that goal quite well, pushing the GDA quite high.

Step Down

Three for-sale townhomes face 46th Avenue, a residential street, at the northwest corner of the site. From a design perspective, these three units are very important, as they are only two stories in height, which allows the building to “step down” and blend better in to the existing neighborhood to the north.

This project has essentially three housing types – three for-sale townhomes, 41 market-rate apartments (some with excellent river views), and 12 affordable rental units (20% of the total), for 56 housing units overall.

Parking Entrance

Parking is behind the building. The only surface parking visible from Lake Street are the on-street spaces. The two curb cuts that are required are as small as possible, and the parking area is masked by screens, shrubs and consistent architecture. The 74 parking spaces for residential tenants are underground.

Parking Behind

There are 37 off-street parking spaces in the lot behind the building designated for the retail space. This equates to 4.7 spaces per 1,000 square feet of space, which is generally thought to be sufficient for this environment. A pedestrian door provides direct access to all four retail spaces. So whereas the pedestrian-friendliness is the guiding principle of the design, this pedestrian door acknowledges how most customers arrive. Also, notice the residential units with walk-out access to the parking lot, just like those that face Lake Street. Why not? They give a greater sense of shared space, offer convenience for those residents, and probably make the parking lot safer.

Back Fence

There are no such thing as buffers in urban development – there isn’t space to build landscaped berms between uses. Therefore, all four sides of a project must be respectful of their surroundings. In this case, an attractive fence and landscaping face the alleyway, blocking direct views of the parking lot and dumpsters.

Simple Walk-Out

What is the takeaway here? West River Commons isn’t spectacular from an architectural perspective. It is pedestrian-friendly, mixes uses well, and hides parking. It is taller and denser than the buildings it replaced, but after 10 years, does that matter? The style of a new building doesn’t matter as much as whether it has good urban design that relates well to the street and surroundings. We the public have to raise the bar to encourage development that is first and foremost attractive, pedestrian-friendly and adds to the beauty of the city. West River Commons achieves this in spades.

Michael Lander also needed dozens of public meetings to get this project approved, and he was met with quite a bit of resistance. One project opponent showed up at the grand opening of the project and admitted he was wrong, that West River Commons was a good addition to the neighborhood. I realize not every person is going to be convinced that a new building built near their home is wonderful, even after it is done. My fear is our approvals process drives away the best developers, and since change will occur in some form, if we don’t get the best buildings for our city we all lose.

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

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56 Responses to West River Commons (Still) Sets a High Bar for Minneapolis

  1. Steven Prince March 26, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    “Michael Lander also needed dozens of public meetings to get this project approved, and he was met with quite a bit of resistance. ”

    Lander & Associates has had good ideas and built good projects over the years. This is one of them – a good addition to the urban fabric that respects its surroundings. Your post notes that an original project opponent admitted the project was a good addition to the neighborhood despite earlier opposition. Did you ask Michael if the design and execution of the project worked out better thanks to neighborhood input?

    It would be interesting if you posted the design proposal originally brought to the neighborhood. How did neighborhood input and consultation change the project? Did it have all of the features you now laud? Was it 3-4 stories, or higher?

    In my neighborhood I could name at least two large developers who concede that the urban and design sensitivities of neighborhood groups have often far exceeded the demonstration of the same qualities from Minneapolis planners. Both developers concede that early proposals they made in Uptown were poorly designed for that urban environment and became better projects because of neighborhood involvement, involvement both developers initially resented.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

      Good points Steven. I’m aware that the nbrd helped improve the design. I just wish public input could be more consistently and predictably applied through stronger upfront planning and a zoning code that better delivers that vision. Form based code.

  2. Morgan March 26, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    Thank you for this post.

    Just to be clear, I don’t think that anyone that was critical of the potential demolition of 24th and Colfax was critical of Lander, his business practices, or his products. What I personally didn’t like about it was the demolition of vernacular housing stock. And I also think that the renovation of 24th and Colfax would be a good project for a smaller developer because it obviously doesn’t offer the scale that an enterprise like Lander and Associates likely requires. While I admit that the renovation of 24th and Colfax is probably not possible in our current market, I think that it likely will be relatively soon so the urgency to which demolition is the answer just does not exist in my view.

    There are also plenty of other sites in the vicinity of 24th and Colfax that would make for excellent projects for Lander, but would be a little bit more difficult than developing empty land. But, if Lander is a high performer like you and Scott argue, then this is what we should demand of him.

    Anyway, West River Commons was built right before I moved to Minneapolis. Do you know what was on that site prior to this development?

    • Brian Moen March 26, 2014 at 10:33 am #

      I believe it was an old service station and maybe a run down old church.

      Also of note, the first plan for the site was much different, and was actually demolished after a fire as it neared completion. The current structure is much different from that original building.

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

        Brian, I didn’t know the design changed after the fire. I’d love to know how much and whether it impacted approvals or financing.

        • Brian Moen March 26, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

          I’m 80% certain the current building is different from the old one, which ,by the way, was going to house Molly Quinn’s, who ended up opening farther down Lake St in what’s now Sonora Grill. That would have been interesting for West River Commons to house a bar rather than the Longfellow Grill. Could have changed everything as well.

          • Sam Newberg
            Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

            I guess it all worked for the best since the current iteration, Merlin’s Rest, is awesome!

          • Julie Kosbab March 26, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

            I recall the design changed as well, in part because when the building burned, the potential retail tenants changed. The planned tenants were unable to wait for the site to be re-cleared and re-built.

            (Understandably.)

            • Sam Newberg
              Sam Newberg March 29, 2014 at 9:11 am #

              The restaurant tenant changed due to the fire, but the fire didn’t affect the physical plan of the project.

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer March 26, 2014 at 10:53 am #

      I believe that you’re not critical of Lander specifically, although I gather you generally prefer 19th-century builders to 21st-century builders.

      However, it is absolutely true that others opposed to the 24th and Colfax project are very critical of Lander. I’ve heard these comments in public meetings and I’ve read them online. They insinuate that he’s an outsider (saying his primary residence is in London?), they accuse him of greed (like T.P. Healy built homes out of the kindness of his heart), and they say that the apartment buildings would damage the fabric of the neighborhood. They assert that the new project will have a functional life from 20-30 years, which is just ridiculous.

      This post shows that Lander is capable of building handsome, pedestrian-friendly buildings that contribute to the neighborhood.

      • Morgan March 26, 2014 at 10:58 am #

        Those other people are stupid.

        I like both 19th and 21st century builders and think that we should have both.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

      To my knowledge, prior to West River Commons, the site(s) included a vacant gas station, a surface parking lot and a one-story building that was most recently used as a church and meeting hall. Some kind of radio show was broadcast from it in the 1930s, and if it makes anyone feel better, it was studied for historic preservation, and deemed not historic.

      • Morgan March 26, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

        Thanks, I was wondering not for historic preservation reasons but because it’s such a great site, right on the river. My intuition is that some of the great design features that you mention are possible due to the high quality of the site itself. The location of the development is a big factor in how premium it is and how many high quality amenities it can absorb.

  3. Scott Shaffer
    Scott Shaffer March 26, 2014 at 10:25 am #

    Thanks Sam! And for the record, I am not and never have been in the employ of Lander or any other developer.

  4. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary March 26, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    One thing I am curious about is the dual-entrance format with no parking in front of the commercial uses. This whole development is very similar to the Kensington Park project in Richfield (7600 block of Lyndale Ave and Aldrich Ave). While I think that project was terrific — probably one of the two best redevelopment projects of the last 20 years in Richfield — the autocentricity does rear its head with the dual entrances. While the stores technically all have an entrance on Lyndale Ave, the focus is tilted heavily toward the back/parking entrance. Chipotle has a particular indignity of storing their garbage bins just inside the “pedestrian” entrance.

    Has that been an issue there? Or are the storefronts focused on the street?

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

      Good observation Sean. Kensington Park has more retail, higher percentage arriving by car and zero on street parking. Also, Lyndale is less pedestrian friendly than Lake, sometimes in subtle ways. This relationship goes both ways.

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

        Think about it, why would anyone really choose to approach on foot from 77th and Lyndale? Pretty hostile. 76th is better now with the bike lane, so the city’s headed in the right direction, but lots of work to do.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

      At West River Commons the coffee shop, gift shop and pizza have entrances off the sidewalk, the coffee shop and Longfellow Grill have entrances off the plaza. So all spaces face either a very straightforward urban street with a wide sidewalk or a lovely plaza, or both. All four retail tenants have access from a hallway that opens on the parking area. There is signage and a door, but you can’t actually see the retail spaces at WRC from the parking lot. Partly because the design emphasis and partly because there is so little retail space (and a short distance to walk), it seems natural to just walk around the front of the building and walk in off the sidewalk. I may be the only one who does this, but the sidewalk is pleasant to walk on, so I feel obligated to do so. Or I arrive by bike and ignore the parking lot altogether. Or I park on the street because then I can walk past the residential walk-out units, which I quite like.

      Kensington Park has more than three times the retail space, which necessitates three times the parking, even though it is mostly hidden from the street. Unlike WRC, all retailers at KP have direct access from the parking lot. This kind of makes the parking lot side the front door (whereas at WRC there is a hallway, so it can’t be a front door). This seems like a small distinction, but it is quite significant. Also, there is no street parking so everyone simply uses the parking lot rather than the sidewalk to access KP retail.

      Kensington Park is an excellent Richfield project, but those are the differences.

  5. Matt Steele March 26, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Agreed, this is a winner. Wish we could replicate this all over our city.

    • Julie Kosbab March 26, 2014 at 11:00 am #

      …especially the lovely patio seating. I love that patio.

  6. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell March 26, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    For a couple of years I worked about a half mile from here and walked over to Dunn Bros every day and ate at Longfellow occasionally. I agree that it’s a great bit of Urban example and we need more like this.

    I have often wondered what it would have done to the overall cost of the project to have increased the architectural appeal a bit (yep, I’d take almost any 19th century or older building over 20th). A friend who lived here for several years said that she loved it but, like me, would have appreciated a better and more interesting skin.

  7. David March 26, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

    When you say there isn’t room for “buffers” in the urban area, I disagree. I do agree that there isn’t room for suburban style buffers (like the berms you noted). In an urban space, the building itself needs to buffer the adjacent properties, and in this case it does that by stepping down and transitioning to townhomes. The townhomes buffer neighbors, and buyers of the townhomes know what they are getting when they buy it so nobody gets dealt a blow. Key aspect is that it all be in the right context.

    I don’t get down to that end of Lake very frequently, so don’t recall what was there previously so can’t speak to what might have been lost for the development. Most of the buildings along that stretch of Lake are unremarkable though so probably not much was lost.

    One of the facets of New Urbanism that seems lacking in Minneapolis though is a respect for historic architecture, and creative re-use thereof. Perhaps that comes from 50+ years of demolition-crazed policies in Minneapolis, or perhaps from the the influence of special interests. Over a decade ago when the Sears building was renovated, another developer was making a case for demolition of the structure to make way for a big box store with a strip mall, like what happened in St Paul where the Montgomery Ward building was. Re-using the tremendous square footage of the Sears building was the right thing to do but didn’t come naturally to Minneapolis. Sustainability demands that existing structures be re-used to the extent that it is feasible, hopefully Minneapolis will wake up to this reality at some point.

  8. Adam Miller
    Adam March 26, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    This actually makes me a little sad. The things discussed in this post are all good, but they are also pretty darn basic. They shouldn’t really be remarkable.

  9. Joe Scott
    Joe March 26, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    if this is an example to aspire to, that really is sad. It’s a single building the size of a whole city block, that tries to be everything at once. Unfortunately you can’t fake diversity, and diversity is an essential element of a good street. On a traditional street, each narrow lot might have a different owner, and the individual buildings could change hands, or be remodeled or torn down and redeveloped individually, finetuning the street to existing conditions/populations/whatever piecemeal over a long period of time.

    This is like the Wal Mart of urban development.. it’s a big box that tries to offer everything. But it lacks the grain that makes traditional streets adaptable and potentially long-lived, which also makes it totally uninteresting. The city should limit building footprints to increase the grain of development.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

      Valid point Joe. I wish we could build at a more fine-grained level. The West River Commons site was two parcels and combined in to one. I suspect building on just one of the parcels was either infeasible for whatever reason.

      So are the new Apple and Columbia stores on Hennepin acceptable based on your fine-grained approach? I like them for the reasons you cite – they at least keep the grain of development the same. Some may balk at the fact that they are chain stores or for what they replaced, but I quite like the result.

      • Joe Scott
        Joe March 26, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

        The Apple store on Hennepin has been there since I moved here a couple years ago, so I don’t know what it replaced, but I used to ride the 6 to work and I’ve always enjoyed the contrast between it and the frilly theater to the south – it generates the kind of interesting clash that just doesn’t happen when a single architect tries to add aesthetic variety to a megablock. Also a good example of how it takes time for an interesting place to happen. It’s true that if the Apple store replaced some pre-war brick storefront, there’s a good chance I’d prefer that building in isolation. But I think the fact that the Apple store maintains the scale and pattern and adds diversity is more important.

        • Alex March 26, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

          The Apple Store replaced the Uptown Bar, legendary shithole of Uptown. I agree that the west side of Hennepin is still a good streetscape, but unfortunately in the case of the Apple Store it was a downgrade.

        • Cadillac Kolstad March 26, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

          The Apple store replaced the Uptown Bar. The uptown bar was an atr deco / Moderne Nightclub and Restaurant . Popular, well attended. providing employment for service sector employees, and entertainers. The Uptown bar was an intensive land use, and catered to a much broader clientele than the apple store. The Uptown bar was an anchor business and fit into the principles of new urbanism. The apple store not only destroyed a classic store front but a thriving and vibrant neighborhood employment and gathering center.
          The staff of the Uptown bar tried to reopen in the Theater antiques space on Lyndale ave. The plan was to be employee owned and managed and to provide a venue for entertainers.
          This plan was destroyed by the city who refused to issue a liquor license. Sad twice.
          Another example of a great urban institution killed while catering to big developers.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam March 27, 2014 at 10:22 am #

            Seems like some people might work in the Apple Store too.

          • Matt Steele March 28, 2014 at 9:06 am #

            Everyone has fond memories of the Uptown bar (I played gigs there) but the owners didn’t want to keep it open anymore.

            I hear this talk about greedy developers. But what about these businesses people like that close because of “greedy” owners? The owner of the Uptown bar died, and the estate (likely family) found it to be profitable to sell the land/building.

      • StevenPrince March 27, 2014 at 9:29 am #

        The Apple and Columbia buildings are great examples of high design national chain architecture. Unfortunately these corporate cookie cutter designs, despite their visual appeal, are designed for malls, not urban pedestrian zones. Both buildings are failures in my view for their failure to use prime real estate for anything accept first-floor retail.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam March 27, 2014 at 10:25 am #

          They seem to put a lot of them urban pedestrian zones too. Like Georgetown in DC, downtown Portland (Columbia at least), and, of course, New York.

    • Morgan March 26, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

      While I am sympathetic to your point, this is a good project based on the economics of building today. I am not sure if it was a Planned Unit Development or not but maybe that accounts for the building’s size AND the public amenity near the River. Makes sense to me.

      This is why we need to conserve vernacular architecture, because it’s special and cannot be replicated. But we need to embrace new projects as well. There are a lot of good things about this building.

    • Cadillac Kolstad March 26, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

      Well said Joe!!!! There are many who agree with your points!

    • Dave P March 26, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

      Joe, I’d say this might be the smallest scale project I can think of in the city (not including SFHs). I’m not sure I’d call it a “Wal-mart” development. Most of the stuff going up around the UMN campus might be more apt for that description.

      Do you have any examples of small scale development in the style you describe? I am just not aware of any in Minneapolis nor do I have my pulse on development of our peer cities. It seems to me, the 21st century economic reality of these developments is about the ROI for the developer, not the long term health and diversity of the block.

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

        Dave, you are probably right with regard to the ROI. New construction is expensive, and often projects must be of a larger size to achieve economies of scale. Places like the Apple store on Hennepin, for example, are exceptions because high sales justify high rents, which justify the construction cost.

        That said, it’s hard to argue that the long-term health of the block isn’t better with West River Commons versus a vacant gas station, small commercial building and vacant lot, but each to his own, I suppose.

      • Josh March 26, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

        There are a few new small apartment buildings around Uptown. One is right near Calhoun Square. The others I can’t locate specifically – I see them when I bike around, but I’m pretty sure there are a few the scale of the standard 4plex or brownstone. I’m thinking Aldrich, Colfax, Grand just south of Lake Street.

        • Sam Newberg
          Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

          There’s a small new residential building on 38th Street between Nicollet and Blaisdell. It reminds me of a lot of new housing I’ve seen in Chicago. Not sure what that replaced but I’d love to see more of this stuff.

          • StevenPrince March 27, 2014 at 9:34 am #

            The adaptive reuse of the Loring Park Office Building at 430 Oak Grove into rental apartments is a great project executed by the development arm of Kraus-Anderson Construction.

        • Dave P March 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

          I should have clarified, I know there is a limited number of residential units, but I meant smaller scale mixed use, or commercial only.

          I could think of one off hand today, on the 4th St/35W exit intersection.

          http://goo.gl/maps/hUK0Q

  10. Dave P March 26, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    “The two curb cuts that are required are as small as possible”. I have to point out that these curb cuts are quite a bad experience for pedestrians AND drivers. This is a attractive project, which has managed to draw me to an area I might not normally have visited, but those “small” curb cuts should not have been tolerated. As a pedestrian, I have two additional areas between a block which I am now watching for cars, where there could have been zero. As I driver, I am entering/exiting through a pedestrian realm, followed by a car parking zone, following by 2-lanes of traffic on a VERY busy intersection. It seems to me that the entrance/exits could have been on Dorman or 46th Ave and avoided both problems. As always, I’m sure there were reasons behind the decision that seem logical, cost, neighborhood opposition to traffic on side streets, but it is certainly not something I’d like to see the city making the norm in the future.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

      I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that commercial parking curb cuts on Dorman and 46th Av would be unpalatable to neighbors. Although I’m not opposed to the idea, not having commercial parking accessible and visible (the entrance) off Lake Street might be unpalatable to retailers. Maybe we chalk this one up to compromise?

  11. Cadillac Kolstad March 26, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    Lander is still a rich and powerful developer. This article ignores many of the problems created. Whats the benefit again? Sam likes it? Other people still don’t like it.
    Let me innumerate a few key objections.
    This project was achieved at great expense to the public and the environment.

    1. I watched numerous trucks of debris hauled off down lake street because of demolition the contractor did not follow the procedure of wetting the material to prevent dust from flying.
    2. The project burned to the ground when almost complete. More pollution and an even bigger carbon footprint.
    3. Public money was used to finance this project My understanding is around 11 million / most of the cost. Developer retains equity in the property. We pay for it.
    4. much of the construction debris came from tearing down a century old auditorium that could have provided an intensive public land use and a useful vibrant performance venue. (This was also the site of one of the first nationwide radio broadcasts)
    5. This is a gateway to the city and especially with public money should be something more inspiring.
    6. This is located at the juncture of, the most traveled bus route, on a very busy street intersecting another busy street on one of the great rivers of the world. Of course it’s going to be a popular spot for mixed use. Lander is not a genius for building something here that is being used.
    7. how could you have “too much retail” on the busiest bus route in Minneapolis?
    At the time this was build with public money adding any retail space was too much because retail was underused on E lake. Now there is a huge demand for retail and there will soon be a shortage.
    In conclusion I agree with the other poster that this is the Walmart of Urban design. Leaving much to be desired. There is more I could say but I better stop here.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg March 26, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

      Regarding financing, I’d like to correct Mr. Kolstad. The total project cost was $11 million. Low income housing tax credits accounted for $70,000. A Hennepin County brownfield grant was $118,000 and helped clean up soils that were contaminated by the prior use (the gas station) and were inhibiting re-use. A HUD HOME loan was provided for $500,000 and HUD CDBG grant was $100,000. The owners provided over $1 million in equity and the rest, which by my calculation, is around $8.8 million, came from private bank financing.

      Regarding “too much retail,” in 2011 the Longfellow Community Council hired my company to assess why retail vacancy on East Lake Street was so high – 15%. One of our conclusions was that there is likely too much commercial space on East Lake, and a lot that does exist needs reinvestment and lacks synergy with nearby retail. At the time, West River Commons was 100% leased, and with new, well-managed space providing what customers want, our conclusion was developments like it were part of the solution for Lake Street.

      • Cadillac Kolstad March 28, 2014 at 4:00 am #

        In response to Mr Newbergs correction. I’m not sure where he got his information. I got mine from the City of Minneapolis. As I said earlier the project was almost entirely publicly financed. including 8.2 Million in municipal bonds, not private bank financing, public financing.
        After financing the project that totalled over 11 mil. the tax valuation in 2005 was only 4.9 mil and the 2013 value was only 4.4 mil. either more than twice the value was paid to build this or the owner is getting a break.

        Here is the funding breakdown from the city.

        Minneapolis Community Development Agency
        Approved by Chuck Lutz, MCDA Interim Executive Director

        West River Commons Sources of Funds

        General Partner (Cash) $ 800,000
        General Partner (Deferred Development Fee) $ 400,000
        Tax Exempt City of Minneapolis Bonds $ 8,200,000*
        LP Equity LIHTC $ 450,000
        MCDA Multi-Family Program $ 500,000
        Hennepin County Environmental Grant $ 228,000
        MCDA CEDF Loan $ 100,000
        Sale of three Town Homes $ 740,000
        TOTAL $11,418,000
        *NOTE: $800,000 TIF included in this amount

        In response to the retail issue, I would suggest that the mall of america and other suburban competitors, coming on the heels of 40 years of urban flight had more to do with the empty retail than “too much” of it. I postulate that west river commons being in a prime location where retail space was not available previously added competition, and therefore to the problem of vacant space on east lake. Also many long term owners were “Land banking” with little interest in leasing space.
        There was an excess of retail space throughout the city for years, now many areas such as West Bank and Seward have shortages. My bet is you will soon find the same situation on East Lake where retail has seen a boom in recent years.

        I do agree that more “mixed use” development is for the best but there are other ways to do this.
        Thanks!

        • Sam Newberg
          Sam Newberg March 29, 2014 at 9:08 am #

          My source is the developer, and that I prepared two market studies for the co-developer (@Home Apartments) and the private bank in 2001 when the project was proposed.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke March 28, 2014 at 7:47 am #

      I don’t know about the funding side of it, and appreciate the info. Do you have a link for those?

      My quibble is that the #21 is not the busiest bus route in the city (that distinction belongs to the #16 and the #5). It has low ridership particularly in this area, which is why service times are so curtailed along East Lake.

      Lake Street traffic drops after you go East of Hiawatha, as well, and is high only at the bridge. I don’t think this corner has historically had a lot of ped traffic apart from the river road and there’s not much residential or commercial density along East Lake in general, which is one reason why the commercial spaces there have languished for decades.

      Anyway, the point is that this wasn’t really one of the ‘main corners’ of the city. I think the new development has done a lot to turn in into a busy urban place.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam March 28, 2014 at 11:32 am #

        I drove by yesterday, and will likely walk by tomorrow, but yeah, my impression is that the issue for retail in the area is a shortage of people, and a lot of dated small retail and commercial buildings surrounded by parking lots. I noted one of the dreaded urban drive-through banks, for example, just up the road.

      • Cadillac Kolstad March 28, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

        Bill, sure! yes I have links.
        Here is the allocation chart.
        http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@council/documents/webcontent/convert_283280.pdf
        here is a discussion of the outstanding debt at a meeting from last june P 566 / P 24
        http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@council/documents/proceedings/wcms1p-110198.pdf

        Ok maybe the 21 is now the second busiest, it used to be busiest.
        -The things people like about this project came from community input.-

        The reasons commercial was weak here are more complicated.
        I reiterate my reasoning posted, as well as a few others such as the vibrant prostitution (heath club / sauna ) industry that was shut down around this time creating a temporary increase in retail space, but increasing desire for retail leasing in the long run. (one of our big gags as kids was to go knock on the door of the “health clubs” and ask for a membership or to see the machines 😉
        Also the contradictory policy of the city should be considered, at the same time this project went forward, just up the street a large auto service station was constructed, and the SA gas station was enlarged destroying Molly Quins awesome outdoor patio and added a huge retail segment further competing with existing commercial structures. The walk in only white castle from the 30’s-40’s was demolished and a drive through added. These uses further hindered pedestrian / locally patronized businesses.
        Development at this intersection (46th and lake) was not the problem. People wanted development. People wanted something inspired. The Patio in front for example would never have happened without the community input.

        There were and are actually a lot of people with purchasing power living within a few blocks of lake street. Customers was never the problem. there is also ample bike, bus and car traffic to support commercial endeavors. I would suggest It actually is a main corner of the city being at the very edge, on lake street, the river road and a major bridge / gateway.
        Being situated along the only major gorge on the Mississippi river there was major interest in a project / architecture that would take advantage of this setting, and incorporate more public river views. And have more business / gather space for people recreating along the trail.
        The WRC project happened on land destined to become a busy urban place. After seeing first hand the effort people put in for over a decade previous, I just can’t allow all the credit to go to this one project, that was publicly financed.
        Thanks!

        • Adam Miller
          Adam March 29, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

          If customers weren’t the problem, there would not be empty storefronts.

          The new market going looks like it will be great for the area.

          It’s too bad the street is so much wider than needed though.

          • Cadillac Kolstad April 2, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

            Adam,
            On the surface this makes sense but its not that simple.
            In addition to the facts I have already mentioned.
            Many of the potential customers have cars, gas was cheap for many years. These potential customers would drive to another retail center, Grand avenue was a popular destination.
            It is also important to note that many of the potential retail locations were not vacant but used for other business purposes such an offices and machine shops. Both the new grocery and The New Hymies records locations were fully occupied until a short time before the uses changed over.
            The truly vacant locations were often, as I said owned by property owners who were not always interested in leasing to retailers. These properties often are held for many years while the owners wait for the property value to increase so the can sell at a high profit, this is what i meant by “land banking”.
            I understand the basis for the assumption but there are many other factors. Adding 56 housing units did not change the balance of customers to retail very much.
            There is a huge growing demand for non residential uses in Minneapolis. This is a major component for the surge of activity seen on East Lake in recent years.
            Thanks

  12. StevenPrince March 27, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    “a one-story building that was most recently used as a church and meeting hall. Some kind of radio show was broadcast from it in the 1930s”

    The radio broadcasts were notorious in their day as one of the most virulently anti-semitic shows on the airwaves.

    HPC originally required the new building have an interpretive display, later changed to a plaque, noting the early radio broadcast history of the site. I think it was later decided to omit the plaque out of concern that it would only commemorate the brothers who ran the Tabernacle, Paul and Luke Rader, who were determined not worthy of commemoration because of their anti-semitism.

    Here is a description of the original building from the Minneapolis website:

    “The building that was located at 4610 East Lake Street was historically known as the River-Lake Gospel Tabernacle. The structure was designed by Minneapolis architect Perry Crosier and built specifically for the Tabernacle in 1928. The two-story Period Revival structure featured polychromatic brick façade with a Spanish tile pent roof.”

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke March 28, 2014 at 7:48 am #

      Minneapolis was famously called “the capitol of Anti-semitism” by a historian. With this, the (actual) NE Nazi, and the recent (fake) Nazi costume party, I’m beginning to think that was true.

  13. Cadillac Kolstad April 2, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    Two issues with the planning process.
    -This property development was guided by a community task force. The developer hired members of the task force during the planning / oversight process. .
    -The project being almost entirely funded through public financing was not disclosed at the community taskforce meetings.
    The committee was lead to believe that under 20% was public finance. As can be seen from the chart I provided earlier it was closer to 90%. Even Sam Newberg / Joe Urban, a respected consultant seems to have been mis informed on this.
    Thanks!

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