Things are changing on 44th: New library is out, new retail is coming in

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4414 Humboldt Avenue North has been the site of many transitions in the past decade. Remember G J’s Supervalu Store? They provided groceries and employment to our community for many years, but deciding that their business was no longer viable, they sold and Kowalski’s grocery store moved in. Three years later Kowalski’s made the same decision and the property sold again to a construction company. In June of 2008 the property was foreclosed and Hennepin County purchased it in December of 2008 for $986,500, using bond proceeds earmarked for library projects. Hennepin County also purchased  the properties at 1413 and 1411 – 45th Avenue North with the intention of moving ahead with plans to build a new Webber Park Library, but was unable to acquire the fourth property they felt was needed to move ahead with the project. The buildings were then demolished, with the exception of the old grocery store. The properties were fenced in, giving them a secure, but abandoned appearance. They remain that way today, awaiting a fate which will include retail, and not a library.

In the spring of 2010 the Hennepin County Board declared the property at 4414 Humboldt Ave. N. “surplus property.” On May 25, 2010 Hennepin County issued a Request for Proposals for the property; preferring a lease with option to buy. They took questions through June 2, 2010 and proposals through June 18, 2010. On November 16, 2010 the Hennepin County Board approved agreements with Abdo Markethouse for lease and purchase of the property at 4414 Humboldt Ave. N.  Michael Noonan, Hennepin County manager of real estate, said they are “in the final stages of negotiations with Larry Abdo,” an agreement that should net Hennepin County $1.2 million over five years between the leasing (approximately $100,000 per year) and purchase ($700,000) agreement. He said Hennepin County and Abdo, “are working together to get the site redeveloped and make it a productive part of the community.” Although Abdo was not available for comment, Noonan reported that Larry Abdo is currently working out an agreement with Dollar General and is intending to add at least one other retail store to the site. He added, “Larry Abdo has a track record of quality development;” he is the owner of the Nicollet Island Inn and Hennepin County “reflected carefully on the track record, vision, and stability” of all applicants in the pursuit of a successful user for the site. Abdo is planning renovation of the existing structure on the property. (The retail that Abdo is negotiating with, Dollar General, was ranked 195 by Fortune 500 in 2010. Dollar General’s chief executive, Rick Dreiling, credits the company’s success to new store layouts, thriftiness among higher income consumers and Dollar General’s transition “from cheap to inexpensive”.)

When asked about the future of the new Webber Park Library plans, Noonan said that the County is still committed to the project, but there is no clear charge to purchase or seek other properties at this time. He said, “We are keeping our eyes open and would move on an opportunity.” When asked about the Webber Park Library finances, Dave Lawless, director of budget and finance for Hennepin County, said that the properties were purchased with bond proceeds, and federal tax regulations required that they be put back into capital projects; in this case into the surplus property fund earmarked for other library projects that could include Webber Park Library. Lawless said, “At the end of the day, we need to spend the bonds in a timely fashion.” They are library bonds for library projects. Excess money will get spent where needed – and will Webber get short changed? They will be accommodated at the time “that the project moves forward.” Lawless added that at such a time, discussions will occur between the community and the County Commissioners, and the project will be adjusted as needed. In essence there is a place holder for the $12 million new Webber Park Library capital budget. He is aware of no conversations regarding property acquisition at this time. (The capital budget for the new Webber Park Library, adjusted from $15 million to $12 million in 2010, reflects expenditures of $1.7 million as of December 2009.)  Kelli Koob, from the Hennepin County Library Capital Projects office, said that there are no new updates at this time, but will get back to me (i.e. the Camden News) regarding future site locations for the project. At the time of this printing there were no new updates.

In a related development the Minneapolis Park Board is moving ahead with plans to redesign or renovate aspects of the Webber pool and park. It is related, because the current Webber Park Library is integrated into the present site of the Webber Park pool. The Minneapolis Park Board has earmarked $4 million, $2.9 million in 2011 and $1.1 million in 2012, for this project. Park Commissioner Jon Olson and MPS planner Andy Lesch confirmed that three firms have responded to a Requests for Proposals for project design and a decision regarding selection will be made in the next week or two. The pool will be closed this summer as plans for design and community input move forward, including possible demolition of the pool. Lesch stated that there will be a reasonable study completed to determine the condition and possible reuse of the current facilities. 

Lesch and Olson said there will be multiple public meetings, at various times, in order to get input from residents regarding the community’s needs and desires for this project. These public meetings could occur as soon as April and run into the summer months. Olson said that the “idea is to have a process that envisions what could be there.” He is hoping the community and design firm can find a way to integrate picnicking and free swimming at Webber Park. “If the project is done right we can solve a lot of problems and do something really nice” for our community. Some ideas that may be looked at include highlighting the creek, addressing road and lighting concerns, and the integration of summer swimming and winter skating, possibly having a permanent structure that serves as both a changing room and warming house.

As to how this will affect the current and future Webber Park Library, Olson said that he has never been in opposition to rebuilding in the park, “We [the MPS park superintendent and board chair] have made it clear to both Mike [Opat] and Mark [Stenglein] that we will work with the county.” Olson said the Park Board recognizes that the library is an asset to the park and the community, and confirmed that the pool will be closed this summer. “At sometime the library is going to have to go. I would love to do both at the same time, but if necessary we will do ground pre-work around the library . . . so that it can remain open as this project moves forward.”

With retail moving back into 4414 Humboldt it is unlikely that we will see a library there in the near future. However, the county has continually said that they are committed to building a new Webber Park Library. With the commitment of $12 million from Hennepin County for a new library and $4 million from the Minneapolis Park Board for aquatic improvements at Webber Park, we should see good things coming the our neighborhood soon.