Condos vs. coffee shops in Elliot Park

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March 1, 2004 // UPDATED 9:23 am - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Developers vie for neighborhood's future

If all new housing and plans for Elliot Park come to fruition, construction cranes are going to become a neighborhood staple for the next few years.

The area's population will also balloon; if talked-about condos are snatched up, about 1,000 new residents will move into a neighborhood with a 2000 Census population of 6,476.

The development flurry is good news for neighborhood activists who have been pushing for years for more owner-occupied units in a renter- and supportive-housing-dominated area.

However, as evidenced by competing plans recently presented to the neighborhood group, Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. (EPNI), not all developers share the same vision for the neighborhood.

Some community organizers are pushing for a new "cultural commons" along Elliot Park's stretch of South 10th Street; however, the person who owns the option to develop the area is calling for more condos. The contested parcel is just east of the rising Grant Park condo tower, bordered by Park and Portland avenues south. Grant Street runs due south of the block and South 10th Street due north.

The "cultural commons" plan features a new used bookstore/coffee shop and an art gallery at 609 S. 10th St. (the space formerly occupied by Somali literacy program Ubah Educational Services) as early as this spring.

Meanwhile, Ron Bates, a retired business executive active in historic preservation, is pushing for 300 new townhouses and condo towers on the block. Bates has owned the rights to the parcel since redeveloping the Hinkle-Murphy mansion years ago.

His competing plan would also earmark space for new commercial tenants, possibly including the "cultural commons" bookstore/gallery businesses. However, Bates plans calls for breaking ground in June at the earliest, and it is uncertain whether he'd let the 609 S. 10th St. space remain during the construction.

'Cultural commons'

Developers showcased several plans at a Feb. 17 meeting sponsored by EPNI. The meeting gave local residents and business owners an opportunity to ask questions about the scope of the projects and get updates.

Tom Dillon, a senior project manager with St. Louis Park-based Apex Asset Management, unveiled plans for the third phase of Grant Park. More townhouse-style condos will be built where the project's sales office is located at 500 E. Grant St.

The neighborhood's board of directors did not take a formal position on proposed projects, although some have already received backing from EPNI.

The neighborhood board has previously passed motions approving both the coffee shop/used bookstore EP Atelier and Gallery Atitlan, which would feature a range of indigenous art. It also passed a motion to support an application to the city to rezone 609 S. 10th St. to accommodate more seating at EP Atelier, which is French for the "artist studio."

Elliot Park community organizer Shar Kanan, blues guitarist Lonnie Knight and Diane Ingram, who runs a music publishing company, are behind the proposed coffee shop.

She and her partners plan on selling used books, CDs, artwork, jewelry and artwork, among other things. They recently signed a lease on the space and hope to be open by June, Kanan said.

Real estate broker Richard White, whose passion for travel and art sparked the idea for Gallery Atitlan, plans to share the 609 S. 10th St. space with EP Atelier. He plans to open in April.

Condo towers

Meanwhile, Bates, who is working on a preservation project in South Dakota, envisions 300 new housing units on the block with 23,000 square feet of new commercial space. He is partnering with Bob Roscoe, an architect and former member of the city's Historic Preservation Commission, on the development.

He said he hopes to break ground by June but still needs to obtain city variances. Bates also plans on going before EPNI again to discuss plans.

Bates's plan would call for townhouses along Park Avenue South, which would wrap around Grant Street. Two condo towers, tentatively set for eight stories, would rise from the middle of the block, set back from the street.

He has met with several developers but said he hopes to partner with Downtown-based Kraus-Anderson Companies on the $50 million project.

The developer said he plans on moving back to the neighborhood when his Grant Park condo is completed.

"I've been embedded in Elliot Park for a number of years. This is exactly what neighborhood leaders have been striving for 15 or 20 years. I think that Grant Park sort of broke the ice on the whole thing. There has been a lot of pent-up demand for living places in that area of Downtown. Finally, the demand is being fulfilled," he said.

As for commercial tenants, Bates said he hopes to snag the two other "cultural commons" proposed businesses for the existing commercial space on the block, EP Atelier and Gallery Atitlan.

When he proposed the condo project last fall, there had been talk of relocating the neighborhood's popular gallery, Outsiders and Others, 1010 Park Ave. S.

However, Yuri Arajs, the gallery's owner, said the current plan would keep the plan at its current spot. As it stands, he supports it.

"As far as [Bates's] plan specifically, it's another bid-developed complex of condos getting in on the big development boom in Downtown," he said. "The Elliot Park neighborhood is still relatively untouched by the expansion of housing. That's part of the appeal."