The redevelopment of the northwest corner of Robert and Wentworth in West St. Paul, dubbed Town Center One, has been in the works since at least 2012. It may finally be happening with a $28 million mixed-use project with a 184-unit, market-rate apartment and 5,000 square feet of retail—with a potential brew pub slated for the retail space.
Aug. 23, 2020 Update: The brew pub did not materialize, according to the developer, and they’re proposing reducing the retail space to 1,700 square feet.
Nov. 16, 2020 Update: Granny Donuts has sold and the property incorporated into this project. That’s changed much of the plans, including shifting from five stories to four stories. (This story reflects the project before the Granny Donuts sale, so much of the information below is now out of date.)
The five-story, U-shaped building will include underground and surface parking, retail on the corner, and will take out the existing Maaco, AAMCO, and Batteries Plus buildings, but leave Granny Donuts untouched. The northern end of the project—the former Blockbuster property—will feature a public dog park and public parking lot, as well as access to the River-to-River Greenway trail and Robert Street underpass.
- The developer, Roers Companies, is asking for $3.6 million in tax increment financing (TIF) over 17 years.
- The city will get $1.2 million for the Car-X and Maaco properties (the city paid a total of $2.1 million to acquire those properties).
- The current market value of all the parcels is $2.8 million with $64,657 in property taxes generated. The new project will have a market value of $32 million and generate $429,265 in taxes.
The city purchased Car-X in 2013 as part of the Robert Street project, Blockbuster in 2015, and Maaco in 2018.
The last proposal for Town Center One was a brew pub and bank that only covered a portion of the site, a project that fell apart when the bank backed out (the purchase price for the Car X and Maaco properties in that deal was $900,000 and no TIF). Previous proposals for the space included a specialty grocery store and more market-rate apartments, though developers have had a hard time getting existing businesses to sell (which is why Granny Donuts isn’t a part of this redevelopment).
The project will start going through the process, first coming before the Environmental Committee on August 5. There’s a public hearing scheduled for the August 31 City Council meeting.
Assuming it’s approved, demolition could begin as early as this fall with construction planned for spring 2021.
Opinion: More Density vs. Affordability
This mix of retail and housing will be a vast improvement to that corner, especially if they land the coveted brew pub. It’s the kind of density West St. Paul needs. An apartment on a major trail network, with easy walkability to a library, donuts, and a brew pub sounds pretty good.
While West St. Paul needs more housing, there are likely to be complaints that it’s market-rate housing and not affordable housing. The city is in the process of adding two workforce housing projects (North Gateway and at the former K-mart), but critics argue they’re not affordable enough. This project won’t ease those concerns, though adding more housing capacity will help with the incredibly low vacancy rates. Hopefully more competition will slow rent hikes.
The TIF subsidy feels like a big ask, but it’s also a massive boost to the eventual tax generated by the property (here’s a primer on TIF—the short version is the project effectively subsidizes itself so the city’s not coming up with $3.6 million). Sometimes cities have to make investments. It will be interesting to see this deal evaluated and if the price or term can come down.
The public dog park is also a nice bonus. It’s probably too small to really serve the wider community, but at least it’s something.
It’s also nice to see that long-time West St. Paul staple Granny Donuts will remain, though the tiny building will be dwarfed by the five-story apartment. Building around the tiny shop seems silly, but Granny Donuts has been a hold out on previous redevelopment proposals—if a pandemic closure hasn’t enticed Granny Donuts to sell, it’s unlikely they ever will. What will happen when owner Xuan To finally retires? That will be a small, old building on a tiny lot that might be a challenge to redevelop.
What do you think?
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