New ideas for Grain Belt site

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October 10, 2011
By: Drew Kerr
Drew Kerr
Developers reveal more details on redevelopment ideas for 13th & Marshall

Plans to redevelop the last untouched piece of the Grain Belt Brewery complex are coming into sharper focus, and neighborhood residents say they are optimistic that the entire area will be lifted if any of the proposals under consideration are seen to fruition.     

Four proposals have been submitted for the site, which sits directly north of the former brewery at 13th Avenue and Marshall St. NE. The site includes the former Grain Belt office building, a 20,000-square-foot space that has been vacant for the last 12 years.

Three of the bidders are proposing multi-family, four- and five-story housing units with more than 100 apartments, and a fourth focuses solely on the office building.  

Each of the developers interested in the site attended a Sept. 26 meeting of the Sheridan Neighborhood Organization to explain their plans in greater detail, and residents who attended the meeting said they were supportive of any proposal that brought more residents to the area.

Businesses that have opened along 13th Avenue could benefit from a new customer base, and the development could help strengthen efforts to link the community with the Mississippi River. The site is just two blocks from the river, where officials are hoping to bring a mix of residential and recreational opportunities.

“I think it’s great for the neighborhood,” said Daniel Sprik, who purchased a home two blocks from the site two years ago. “Whatever goes in there is better than a vacant lot.”

Still, there are distinct differences in what each developer is offering.

Collaborative Design Group, Inc. — the company behind the renovation of the Midtown Market, the Split Rock Lighthouse and several other historic sites — is interested in only the office building. Company officials say it would be used as their new office building.

“We’re not just interested in having commodity space,” said William Hickey, a principal at the company, which is now located downtown. “We’re looking for signature space, and that’s what this is.”

The company would be able to partner with any of the other three developers interested in the site to develop the vacant section of the 3.5-acre lot, he said.

The most far reaching plan comes from Diversified Equities Corp., which has a $25 million plan to renovate the office building into an event center that also includes office space, artists’ studios and a restaurant. The vacant land would hold 125 apartments in three four-story buildings.

Plans also call for a promenade to be built through the middle of the site, affording pedestrian access and preserving views of the Grain Belt brewery building, which was left vacant in 1975 but is now home to RSP Architects.

“Sometimes there’s an argument about what’s needed: jobs, housing or a park, and what I think is nice about our proposal is that we can get all three,” said Jon Dickerson, the president of Diversified Equities Corp.

Both Everwood Development and Griffin Companies are also proposing large-scale apartment projects, but say the office building will be primarily used only as office space.

Everwood Development officials hope to move into the building, along with some other design firms, while Griffin has identified two potential tenants officials said they would not identify unless selected.

Also separating the proposals is the kind of housing that will be built.

Both Diversified Equities Group and Griffin are considering city financing, which would require them to keep 40 percent of the apartments affordable, while Everwood says their $24 million project can be lender financed, allowing the apartments to be entirely market rate.

The company is proposing 150 apartments that would rent for $1,000 to $1,850 a month, said Elizabeth Flannery, a project partner at Everwood. Similar housing is available in the North Loop, Uptown and downtown Minneapolis, but is notable absent in Northeast, she said.

“We believe this community should offer a range of housing options,” Flannery said.

Given the option, residents say they would prefer to see an owner-occupied building before apartments. More than half of the neighborhood is rental properties, and more stability is needed, they said.

“I’m a little sad they’re going to be apartments, but that’s the economy,” said Bob Sorg, who owns Two 12 Pottery on 13th Avenue.

Officials from Everwood and Diversified Equities Group said they could turn the apartments into condos if the market demand was there, but Jeffrey LaFavre, a senior partner at Griffin Companies, downplayed the idea.

“The housing needs of a rental tenant are completely different than a renter,” he said.

Staff with the Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development office are considering each of the proposals now and expect to recommend a developer for the site to the City Council in November.

The City Council has the ability to award exclusive development rights, and could act as early as their Nov. 18 meeting. City officials are asking $1.4 million for the vacant parcel and $150,000 for the office building.