What quickly became apparent at Friday’s Breakfast with Gary is that Minneapolis Public School’s negotiations to sell its 6.5 acres next to the light rail station on East Lake Street are just as complex as the actual development plans for site. A portion of the land is home to the Midtown Farmers Market, which has a free lease from MPS.
According to Eric Gustafson, executive director of the Corcoran Neighborhood Group the organization behind the Farmers Market, this meeting was the first time that residents have had the chance to hear more about the negotiations and provide input since 2011. “It’s been difficult to keep residents engaged and informed about this,” said Gustafson in a phone interview. “We had an army of activists up until 2011. Since then, everything’s been negotiated behind closed doors.”
In May, MPS walked away from a two-year negotiation with L&H Station Group. L&H had proposed a mixed-use redevelopment of the entire site (http://www.scribd.com/doc/71606268/LandH-CNO-mtg-110311) with the Farmers Market at the core of the project. MPS board member Richard Mamman cited cost and lack of adequate space for its Adult Basic Education program as the two top reasons that the deal fell through.
This has opened up the field to other interested parties – including Hennepin County and a large nonprofit. Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said, “The County wants to make this happen.” It is unknown whether the County would purchase the land or operate as an anchor tenant in the development. If negotiations are successful, the County will use the plans put forward by L&H Station Group.
However, Mamman warned that “if this deal falls through [with Hennepin County], then it’s all up for grabs.” This is what concerns Corcoran’s Gustafson. He explained that if negotiations with the County end, MSP will want to sell the land quickly. “I was told that the school board would then put the land up for sale with as few restrictions as possible and with minimal public input,” he said.
At the meeting, McLaughlin was optimistic about the deal. He said, “This thing is a win in about a half a dozen different ways.” The acreage is valuable land. It’s near a bustling YWCA, the fifth busiest transit stop in the Twin Cities, and is the host of a farmers market that draws 60,000 customers per season. A mixed-use development is believed to only add to this value.
Mammen stated that some kind of resolution will be reached by the end of October. He also reassured residents that as long as MSP owns the land, the Midtown Farmers Market can remain on the property.
Gustafson said that the Corcoran Neighborhood Group will be talking to customers at the Market about the status of the negotiations and will also be collecting comments from Market customers to present to stakeholders.
Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.