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Hopkins Light Rail Sites You Should Know About

Several sites are important for the project. The city's community development coordinator explains what makes each one special.

The Southwest Transitway project isn't just about what happens on a narrow strip of land running between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. Planners are sketching out development anywhere from a quarter mile to a half mile around the stations.

That's brought a bewildering array of sites into project discussions—even in a city of four square miles such as Hopkins. Tara Beard, the city's community development coordinator, sat down with Hopkins Patch to sort out the key sites and explain what makes them important. (Acreages and formal ownership are from Hennepin County property records.)

Check out the map in the photo gallery to see the locations of all the sites.

Blake Road Station

Cold Storage site

Owners: Blake Road Partners

Area: 16.87 acres

Current use: Rented for refrigerated space. Its primary tenant is Deli Express.

Zoning: 

  • Now: General industrial. 
  • Future: Mixed use.

Why it's important: The toughest part of development is assembling sufficient land for a project to take place, Beard said. This site is perfect because it offers nearly 17 acres all under single ownership. The building's useful life is also nearing an end, making it worth more as new development and giving the owner a good reason to sell.

Unique features: On the creek, near a bike trail and right by the light rail.

What happens to the existing business: It will be torn down and replaced with new development.

43 Hoops

Owners: Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority

Area: 2.28 acres

Current use: 43 Hoops, a basketball facility, leases the site from the county.

Zoning: 

  • Now: Limited business. 
  • Future: Mixed use.

Why it's important: The train platform will be right off the site, so it would be a good space for the park-and-ride portion of the Blake Station, or for other development.

Unique features: It's already publicly owned land, allowing planners freedom in what to do with it.

What happens to the existing business: Since Hennepin County owns the property, the facility will certainly be torn down. However, planners hope to relocate 43 Hoops elsewhere in Hopkins.

East End

Owners: A variety of owners

Area: 22.18 acres

Current use: A mass of businesses, some in strip malls.

Zoning: 

  • Now: A mix neighborhood business and industrial. 
  • Future: Mixed use.

Why it's important: This area borders the rail line but is more in the nice-to-develop category than the must-develop category. Planners expect this area's development to be among the last for the light rail project.  

Unique features: At first blush, the East End's size and location make it seem ripe for development. But its 22 acres are split among 28 different parcels averaging just four-fifths of an acre. The largest is only 2.35 acres. Although some properties lack frontage along the road, most of the buildings are paid off and their location is still good enough to bring in decent rent. "We can plan all we want, but if someone doesn't want to sell, it won't happen," Beard said.

What happens to the existing businesses: It's up to them.

Downtown Station

Park Nicollet site

Owners: Park Nicollet Clinic and Methodist Health Care Association Inc.

Area: 1.2 acres

Current use: Formerly a clinic. Park Nicollet closed the site in 2009 as part of a consolidation effort in response to increasing numbers of unpaid medical bills and shrinking numbers of patients.

Zoning: 

  • Now: Central business. 
  • Future: Mixed use.

Why it's important: The downtown station is actually a few blocks from Hopkins' downtown, so planners are depending on an enticing streetscape to lure riders onto Mainstreet. This site will be an important part of creating a "pedestrian-seductive" environment that drives movement north into the downtown.

Unique features: This will soon be a city-owned building. Hopkins signed a purchase agreement for a little more than $1.5 million, paid in part by an $875,000 grant, and will close on the site in March. Council members are in the process of selecting between two developers for the site.

What happens to the existing business: They've already vacated.

Lutheran Digest building

Owners: Lutheran Digest Inc.

Area: .6 acres

Current use: It's sitting vacant.

Zoning: 

  • Now: Central business. 
  • Future: Mixed use.

Why it's important: This building is on Ninth Avenue instead of Eighth Avenue, the boulevard that will actually guide riders downtown. Consequently, this site is important only insofar as it can be used to expand the project on the Park Nicollet site.

Unique features: As noted above, this site's primary value is its ability to expand opportunities for neighboring sites.

What happens to the existing business: The businesses have already left Hopkins. The fate of the building likely depends on whether it can be wrapped into the Park Nicollet project.

Elks

Owners: Elks Lodge No. 2221

Area: .45 acres

Current use: The location of the Hopkins branch of the fraternal and charitable organization.

Zoning: 

  • Now: Central business. 
  • Future: Mixed use.

Why it's important: Like the Park Nicollet site, development here would encourage people to stroll up Eighth Avenue and into the downtown. Bringing this property into the development umbrella would allow it to be combined with the Park Nicollet site for an even larger project. And because there's a city parking lot on the property's northern border, acquisition of the Elks would potentially bring in two sites for the price of one.

Unique features: Right along the Eighth Avenue thoroughfare.

What happens to the existing business: The Elks don't seem inclined to sell their property, a convenient downtown location that would be costly to replace.

Johnson Building

Owners: 5501 Building Co.

Area: Up to 2.08 acres

Current use: Office and warehouse space

Zoning: 

  • Now: Industrial. 
  • Future: Mixed use.

Why it's important: This is one of the most important sites in Hopkins' rail project. The city plans some iconic entry to Hopkins' downtown on the Johnson Building property—possibly a cornerstone, gateway or other type of streetscape directing riders to the central district. Planners also want the site to have some bustling use that gives riders the impression of a busy downtown district.

Unique features: Right at the downtown station, which will focus on pedestrians instead of drivers.

What happens to the existing business: If current plans move forward, it will be replaced with a business more fitting the project's vision. This will entail first floor businesses that have a lot of activity and, ideally, lots of windows to show off that activity. Upper stories may contain housing. Planners have also discussed the possibility of having a hotel on the site. 

Shady Oak Station

Hopkins Tech Center

Owners: Hopkins Tech Center LLC.

Area: 15.05 acres

Current use: Office and warehouse space

Zoning: 

  • Now: Industrial. 
  • Future: Mixed use.

Why it's important: If the Johnson Building is one of the most important sites, the Tech Center is arguably the most important site. This is the only station site that isn't already publically owned. (The Met Council owns the park-and-ride where the downtown station will be and Hennepin County owns the site of the Blake Road station). Governments will have to acquire this land before construction can start.

Unique features: The Shady Oak station is something of a misnomer. It will actually be at the end of a new extension to 17th Avenue. This extension will cross Excelsior and go right through where the Tech Center stands now.

What happens to the existing business: It will be demolished to make way for the new infrastructure.

 

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