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St. Paul, MN 55114
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University UNITED  A Coalition of Midway Citizens and Businesses

Lexington University

Wilder Foundation:

The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation is proposing to relocate their corporate offices and consolidate dispersed programming locations at the Lexington/University site. A four-story office building is proposed just south of the Aldi’s store parking lot, as well as a 4.5 story parking ramp and some semi-private greenspace.

Wilder Foundation Sight Plan

Wellington Management owns the old 6.5-acre shopping center on the southwest corner (behind the White Castle), and is in the process of purchasing an additional 2 acres to the south. Wellington's original proposal for the site was a traditional strip mall with commercial pad sites fronting both Lexington and University. Now, Wellington is planning a staged development, which has already begun with the sale of a 1.2 acre portion of the site fronting University Avenue to Aldi's grocery store chain. A later stage of development on the interior of the lot (south of the Aldi's) is planned to be higher-density and more transit-oriented.

Lex ington Shopping Center Existing Conditions
Lex ington Shopping Center Existing Conditions
Existing Conditions

Proposed TCF Bank Branch

Final Approved Elevation
Final Approved Elevation

Lexington/University Coalition:

This coalition of community-based organizations now includes about 20 organizations that are all working to ensure that the development of Lexington/University benefits area residents and is consistent with community needs and plans. The Coalition recently developed a document that summarizes many of the substantive issues that the various groups are concerned about with regard to the Wellington development and development along University Avenue in general.
RAISING THE BAR: COMMUNITY EXPECTATION FOR DEVELOPMENT ON UNIVERSITY AVENUE

Chronology:

March 24, 2004Memorandum of Understanding between Wellington and the City
April 28, 2004Application for splitting lot into 3 parcels
June 23, 2004Creation of TIF District
June 28, 2004Lot split approved
June 30?, 2004Aldi's site plan submitted
July 27, 2004Lex-Ham and University UNITED Appeal of Lot Split
August 5, 2004 Aldi's Site Plan Approved by Zoning Committee
August 13, 2004Full Planning Commission Acts on Aldi's Site Plan
August 19, 2004Public Hearing on Appeal of Lot Split
August 23, 2004Last day to appeal Aldi's Site Plan
August 30, 20041st Meeting of Design Advisory Group
October 4, 2004Community Meeting at Dunning Rec Center
October 6, 2004City Council rejects the Lex-Ham/UNITED Appeal
October 11, 2004Demolition of the old shopping center began
November 1, 20042nd Meeting of Design Advisory Group

Background:

The property has been vacant for some time, and blighted for many years. Three years ago Home Depot had a purchase agreement for the site but eventually backed out when public subsidy for the project began to appear unlikely. At that time, University UNITED and some community partners developed an alternative vision for the site of a mixed-used, transit-oriented development that would include a a substantial number of new housing units.

Lexington Park Master Plan
Lexington Park Perspective
Lexington Park Proposal Plan
Images above by Peter Musty, CharretteCenter.com

The corner of University Avenue and Lexington Parkway is a key intersection of the premiere transit corridor in the region and a beautiful residential parkway. What happens on this site impacts a wide array of important issues, including affordable housing, transit, environment, jobs, and the role and rights of the community in the development process. It will also profoundly shape future development patterns along the corridor.

In 2001, UNITED staff compiled a report detailing the existing education, cultural, and healthcare related organizations and entities that are clustered around this critical intersection. Click here to view this report.

In 2002, UNITED worked closely with the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED) and others to coordinate a Transit-Oriented Development Planning Study for the intersections of Lexington/University and Snelling/University. Approximately 200 community stakeholders participated in this planning process that resulted in a TOD Framework plan. This TOD Framework was adopted by the City Council as an amendment to the City's Comprehensive Plan in February, 2004 (click here to link to the TOD Framework summary).

Concurrent to the TOD planning process, University UNITED independently developed a vision for re-making the Midway shopping centers from Snelling Avenue to Syndicate. Click here to view this graphic vision and narrative report. Connecting the vision of a new Midway shopping area and the proposed Lexington Park, UNITED envisioned a large scale reworking of the area bounded by Snelling Avenue, University Avenue, Lexington Parkway, and Interstate 94. This .25 square mile area could potentially include more than 1,000 new housing units, connecting to a newly remade regional shopping/entertainment area by attractive walking and biking paths.

Planning vs. Zoning

While all of the relevant community plans clearly call for mixed-used, transit-oriented development on the site, the zoning for this land was never changed to reflect this community planning. This discrepancy between planning and zoning should not stand, as both state law and the City of St. Paul zoning code state clearly that zoning and Comprehensive Plans must be consistent.

Memorandum of Understanding:

Prior to purchasing the site, Wellington signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City Council/ HRA, spelling out a proposal for an auto-oriented retail project. (March 24, 2004). He subsequently modified his proposal to add mixed-use housing/commercial at the rear of the lot, to be developed after the perimeter lots were sold off. The MOU envisioned the need for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) assistance.

In March of 2004 University UNITED's board passed a resolution opposing this original proposal (click here to view), and another resolution regarding a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (click here to view the MOU) between the City of St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) and Wellington Management (click here to view the resolution).

Tax Increment Financing (TIF)

On June 23, 2004, the City Council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) established a TIF district for the site making it eligible for public financing. This document references the possibility of residential development, including 110 units of rental housing and 72 units of ownership housing. The establishment of the District does not mean funds are assigned to the project, but rather creates eligibility.

Community Meeting

A community forum about the project was held on July 28th and more than 105 people attended. Wellington Management presented their plans, and a community vision and statement of principles ratified by numerous community groups was presented to Wellington. UNITED is a signatory to the Community Statement and is opposed to the Aldi's project because it does not meet TOD guidelines for job or housing density, and is therefore not consistent with the City's Comprehensive Plan. Wellington presented a set of three possible scenarios to the community:

Upper Level
Lower Level
Site Plan
Rendering

Lot Split and Aldi's:

Wellington has gotten approval to split the site into three separate lots, and has sold a 1.2 acre lot on University Avenue to the Alid's grocery store chain. Aldi's, a private-label budget grocery, is under construction and will create about 10 jobs. Lexington Hamline Community Council and University UNITED appealed decisions by the City to approve both the lot split and the Aldi's site plan, arguing that both actions were inconsistent with the University Avenue Transit-Oriented Development Framework which is part of the City's Comprehensive Plan. The two organizations' and our coalition partners also made the case that the overall redevelopment should not be considered or approved piecemeal, but rather as one comprehensive plan.

Aldi's Elevations 6-30-04
Aldi's Site Plan 6-30-04
Aldi’s Store, Rice Street, Roseville
Aldi’s Store, Rice Street, Roseville
  
Aldi’s Store, Rice Street, Roseville

Design Advisory Group:

Minutes of the 11-2-04 Meeting of the DAG

City Councilmember Debbie Montgomery and the department of Planning and Economic Development have created a Design Advisory Group for the Wellington development. This group had its first meeting on August 30, and will continue to meet with Wellington until plans for the remainder of the site are finalized. The precise role of the Group has not been clearly defined, but presumably it is meant to provide feedback on the design of the project.

Remainder of the Site:

To date, Wellington Management has presented a series of different scenarios for what they might develop on the remainder of the site. The most recent scenario, which would be very high density, would include a new Midway YMCA, new headquarters for the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, housing, and retail. Wellington will present the latest plans to the Design Advisory Group created by the the City on November 1.

Lexington Park 2-17-05
Lexington Park 2-17-05

Other Development Sites at the Intersection

Across the street to the north, Hoa Bien restaurant is hoping to partner with JB Realty on a rebuilding and expansion of the restaurant that would include banquet space. UNITED is engaged in conversations with the developer about intensifying the redevelopment proposal to use the land more efficiently and add to transformation of this key node on the University Avenue Corridor.

Hoa Bien Front Elevation Drawing
Hoa Bien Elevation Short Drawing

Recently, however, word has gotten around that both Walgreen's and TCF bank are interested in the site. Big commercials users such as these two are usually willing to pay top dollar for the sites that they want.

Just to the east, the Lexington Branch Library is slated to vacate an old theater building and move down to Dale and Univeristy in 2005, and Frank's Nursery is going out of business and the site is on the market.

More Background:

The site was formerly home to Lexington Park, where the St. Paul Saints played for half a century.

Lexington Park looking southeast
Lexington Park looking northeast
Courtesy of MN Historical Society

The site also abuts some underutilized properties on "superblocks" between University Avenue and Interstate-94, including car dealership inventory lots, and a vacant property owned by the St. Paul School District. These "superblocks" historically housed large corporate headquarters such as Brown and Bigelow and Montgomery Wards. These adjacent blocks may present opportunities for further redevelopment in the coming years.

Lexington SkyLine Panorama
Lexington Central Med Panorama
Montgomery Wards looking east
Brown & Bigelow
Courtesy of MN Historical Society

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