Penn-Lowry construction expected to begin in December ‘if all goes well’

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The southeast corner of Penn and Lowry will soon be developed. Yes, the Camden News and public officials have told you that before. But we’re assured this one is for real.

Remember when the corner buildings were deteriorating or empty in the late 1980s when owned by Cohen Properties, then burned down by fire in 1994, and finally demolished in 1999. Since 1997 there have been five proposals brought to residents and city officials, most notably the Oppidan (2003) and Volunteers of America (2002) projects, all which faded and died for various reasons. But finally, on August 22 the city council approved the sale of the property to Wellington Management, Inc. for redevelopment.

“The time is right” says Erik Hansen, Senior Project Coordinator for the City’s Community Planning and Economic Development department (CPED). He says this project has come together in seven months – and it’s sticking. “We still have to deal with the crime issue,” he says, “but the market is good on the Northside” for developers and investors now. He adds, “Investment can happen in North Minneapolis.”

The city’s goal for the project is to revitalize the corridor, and offer “a mix of uses centered around commercial/retail uses, increasing density and services at this key intersection, creating a ‘sense of place,’ and fostering an active sidewalk environment.” CPED worked closely with the Jordan, Folwell and Cleveland neighborhoods and Penn-Lowry businesses on the potential development. They were offered two development proposals last year from Central Community Housing Trust and Wellington, Inc. They opted for the Wellington proposal with some exceptions. Hansen says, “The people are focused – they understand what they want, expect and deserve.”

Wellington is working with CPED and the city planning department. They met with the planning department on September 22 and the project is expected to ‘sail through’ the planning commission in late October. The city will close on and sell the property in early November and actual construction is expected to begin within 30 days. Wellington will also purchase properties on Oliver. The total development is nearly $7 million. Hansen emphasizes that Wellington is paying the bill and that “there is no public money” going into this investment. Wellington will finance 80 percent of the development with the remaining 20 percent coming from tenants.

The building on the Penn-Lowry corner will be a two-story structure. The anchor tenant (16,200 s.f.) will be an Aldi grocery store (the world’s largest grocer according to Hansen) whose products are “vertically integrated” meaning they sell only one brand of a particular product. They also sell produce, meat and dairy. He says Wellington also has another prospective retailer, but is hush-hush on confirmation. The second floor will have 8,000 s.f. of office space, and Resource Inc. (currently at the Penn-Lowry northeast corner) will occupy some of that space. The current Resource Inc. building will be demolished to accommodate the current Lowry Corridor reconstruction. The Lowry-Oliver corner building will house a full-service bank. The Family Dollar Store on Penn will be renovated and get a new facade.

The Wellington development is generally acceptable to the community – but there’s disappointment that there’s no housing component and no financial institution has yet agreed to occupy the bank building.

Fourth Ward Councilmember Barb Johnson says she and her staff are continuing to talk to different banks to encourage them to come to Penn-Lowry, and there is “sincere interest among some top name banks.” As to housing, she says that corner never had housing and that the Penn-Lowry northwest corner seems more promising as a future housing site – much more conducive to housing where it could adjoin Cleveland Park. Johnson says, “We’re really looking forward to see this development come to fruition. We all want to see something happen there quite badly. Whatever happens, it’s not gonna make everyone happy, but it is a step forward.”

CPED has been working with Hennepin County to ensure that the Penn-Lowry project blends with and works well with the County’s Lowry Avenue Corridor Project. Hansen says the actual construction is expected to be completed, depending on the weather and “if all goes well,” by mid to end of 2007.

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