Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Do You Know the Way to Arden Hills?

If you live in the northwestern part of Ramsey County, the potential and the pitfalls of the old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant area are worth consideration. This is what the area looks like now:

A big ol' brownfield
Can you imagine it looking like this?

Stop messing 'round with your tricks
That is a picture of Santana Row, a development in San Jose, California, which in turn is modeled on Paris. Are you skeptical? So was the Arden Hills City Council:
The company chosen to oversee one of the biggest developments in the state is asking the suburb of Arden Hills to move its City Hall onto the site and to approve residential buildings as high as 12 stories.

Developer Bob Lux of Alatus LLC on Monday outlined the company’s vision for a town center on hundreds of acres at the site of the old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.
I'm having a tough time imagining the market for a 12-story building in Arden Hills, but who knows?
Lux and his colleagues outlined a project whose town center would resemble Santana Row, the celebrated Parisian-style development in San Jose, Calif., with waterfront amenities recalling the band shell area on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis.

Another model for a town center featuring movie theaters and restaurants would be St. Louis Park’s West End.

“People from North Oaks and White Bear Lake would be coming here for entertainment and meals,” Lux said. “The people who designed West End are working for us and learned some lessons from it.”
I suppose they could -- Highway 96 is a nice road that's been rebuilt over the past decade, but I'm not certain they will. But we'll leave that aside:
The key to making the new project a walkable, pleasant environment, the developer stressed — rather than “seas of parking lots” — would be a mass grading of the entire property. That would allow for large stretches of underground parking below commercial and multifamily sites while creating fill to be used elsewhere.

“You would have no competition almost anywhere in the metro area,” he said, adding that the site is within easy driving distance of both big downtowns.

Negotiations, in effect, over the height of buildings began almost at once: It has long been clear that where Ramsey County is comfortable with an urban village, Arden Hills prefers something more suburban.

Asked what he can make work, Lux said that financially speaking, “eight stories would be the minimum” for some town-center areas. “I know it works with 12; if capped, 10 to 12 I know could work, I’d probably say 10. Tour some projects with me and I think you’ll be more comfortable with the height.”
Walkable, but within easy driving distance. And there you have the conundrum. As anyone who has traveled in the area knows, the interchange between 694 and 35W is one of the most notorious bottlenecks in the Twin Cities. We're seeing a great deal of road construction now, especially on 694, which will help matters, but it's still tough driving around here. I suspect people might come out here, but unless the traffic flow improves dramatically, I'm skeptical about getting repeat business. And I'd be curious to see what the market is for apartments or condominiums in a multi-story building in a suburban area. Land is at a severe premium in a place like San Jose; not so much here.

I'm going to be watching this closely, because whatever happens in Arden Hills will greatly affect its neighbors.


Gino said...

"This is what the area looks like now:". Snow in August? Harsh winter ahead I guess...

Mr. D said...

Heh. Keeps out the rifffraff.

R.A. Crankbait said...

What about the toxic cleanup, especially for the "mass grading"? The place could be as "walkable" as a minefield.

Mr. D said...

What about the toxic cleanup, especially for the "mass grading"? The place could be as "walkable" as a minefield.

According to this report, it's been done.

Gino said...

Crankbait: just feel ahead with your cane, and the rest of us will walk 10 meters behind...

R.A. Crankbait said...

Sounds like a job offer, Gino.

Bike Bubba said...

Why do I smell massive subsidies for the benefit of rich yuppies and real estate developers coming here? Would have hoped we could agree that this is out of line, but obviously I'm consistently disappointed in this regard.

And the Superfund stuff? I actually used to own land that was part of the Green River ordinance plant near Rockford, and the main thing they could find decades later was a lot of nitrates--and whether that was from the nitric acid used for TNT, or whether it was just from growing corn, is hard to tell. If you're not disturbing the soil a lot, probably not a huge issue.

One final note; if you're building 12 stories tall, you're not emulating European cities like Paris, either. For a variety of reasons, starting with the limitations of masonry/wood construction, hesitating to build taller than city walls, and predating Elisha Otis by a wide margin, most buildings in Europe are nowhere near that tall. Never mind the fact that if the buildings are so high, you only get a few hours of sunlight a day, you're missing the point of European ambiance that way, too.

Nathan Bissonette said...

Every Minnesota developer sells San Diego but delivers Fargo. That old bit about "location, location, location" remains true.

Bike Bubba said...

Complete with the wood chipper?