Riverside development proposal launched in Champlin

August 20th, 2013 Star Tribune article by Jim Adams

The city goes to the marketplace to develop its prime riverfront land. Two developers have expressed strong interest in the long-awaited project.

Lyla Champlin Anoka Bridge

After decades of planning and acquiring land near the Anoka-Champlin bridge, the city of Champlin last week asked for proposals from developers with ideas on how to build a marina, plaza, restaurant and shops complex, tentatively called Mississippi Crossings.

The city’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) has spent more than $12 million since 2000 buying and removing blighted buildings from willing sellers in an area that had been Champlin’s business district in the early 1900s, said Deputy City Administrator John Cox. The site was a steamboat landing in the later 1800s.

Cox said the request for proposals (RFP) document “is an important step for us to go out into the market.”He said the city hopes to have a developer’s agreement by year’s end and to begin construction next spring. The RFP was sent last Friday to more than 60 metro-area commercial Realtors, restaurant owners and developers. The 60-acre Mississippi Crossings site lies mostly east of Hwy. 169 and north of its intersection with West River Road.

Two developers are already expressing interest in the vacant riverfront spot at the top of a six-mile recreational boating pool extending south to the Coon Rapids Dam. “We hope to reach an agreement with the city by the end of the year,” said Ryan Lunderby of Dominium Development, which has rental properties in 19 states. “We have been looking at land along the riverfront.”Dominium, which owns and manages rental buildings in Champlin, would like to buy city-owned land along the river that abuts the proposed village green open space and build more than 150 rental units in four- or five-floor buildings, Lunderby said. The river setting would be attractive to tenants, he said, adding: “We are definitely interested.”

The other potential developer is Jordan Leopold, of Champlin, who recently heard about the coming RFP and submitted some rough drawings for city officials to consider.

The City Council, acting as the EDA, agreed last week to ask developers to submit plans by Oct. 11 for how they would build the one-acre, first phase just downstream of the bridge. The city also hopes to attract upscale, market-rate rental housing and build a two-level, 300-stall parking ramp and office building.

Cox provided City Council members with Leopold’s rough plans for a restaurant and two-floor event center, saying the quick work indicated strong interest by Jordan and Jamie Leopold. He said the council could delay the RFP release a month to give Leopold’s team time to produce a finished proposal, which, if strong enough, could shortcut the RFP process. But the three council members present opted to proceed as planned to open the proposal request to all developers.

“This is a big deal,” Mayor ArMand Nelson said at the meeting in City Hall. “This is the key piece and we have to do it right. We don’t want to limit our options.”

Council Member Ryan Karasek, a Realtor, said the city might miss some creative ideas from other developers by committing to Leopold. “With competition, in the end, we probably get a better product,” he said.

About a dozen homes, most sitting along the river, border the Crossings site. The residents have kept a watchful eye as city planning has progressed, said homeowner Dave Bouchard, a management information professor at Metropolitan State University’s Minneapolis campus.

Bouchard, who has read city reports and attended Crossings-related meetings, said the city has kept neighbors informed and listened to his comments. He commended officials for seeking a restaurant, shops and upscale, market-rate apartments, which a city-hired consultant found would have good market demand. However, the same study, by Marquette Advisors, said an event center has weak market demand that could require a city subsidy to entice a developer.

“An events center does not look good right now,” Bouchard said. “A lot of us would not want to see something like that.”

Cox noted that the last eight apartment and other buildings the city has bought, some in the early 1990s, are being demolished in August and September for the coming development.

The city has won a $1 million Livable Communities grant from Metropolitan Council that will help pay for the village green and a multistory parking ramp, said City Planner Scott Schulte.

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658