There’s been no shortage of excitement since Hopkins learned about the tenants who’ll be moving in to the Knollwood Crossings retail center being built at the old BP site on 525 Blake Road N.
But the project isn’t just exciting because of the new restaurants and stores setting up shop on a parcel that’s long been an eyesore. It’s thrilling because it marks the end of a development process that has seen several stops and starts along the way.
Here’s a look at how it happened.
1968: The structure that currently occupies the site was first built in 1968, according to Hennepin County property records.
2006 to 2011: The property came under the ownership of Samawi & Sons Properties Llc. in May 2006. However, the property struggled and eventually came under bank ownership. Other businesses looked at the site—mostly restaurants and fast food eateries attracted to the high traffic counts on the busy thoroughfare—but an owner who disappeared made the site particularly difficult to redevelop.
May 31, 2011: Mark Smith, CEO of maX It Pawn, asked the Hopkins Zoning and Planning Commission to halt a zoning change that would prohibit a pawnshop on the BP site. Smith—whose company owned 11 maX It Pawn stores at the time—said the demographics of the area made the site a great one for a new store. Zoning and Planning commissioners unanimously recommended that the City Council reject the rezoning proposal—judging that the BP site was much more closely entwined with businesses in the corridor, including a Holiday service station right across the street and a tobacco store on a nearby corner, than nearby homes.
June 7, 2011: Just a week after winning the support of the Zoning and Planning Commission, the maX It Pawn proposal suffered a fatal setback when the City Council unanimously agreed to stick to its vision and tighten the zoning designation on the site. In a parting shot council members never forgot, Smith criticized the city for choosing a “hope and a dream” over a real project and that there is “no magic pixie dust” for a site that has proven difficult to redevelop. His broker predicted the property would sit vacant for at least five years.
Nov. 22, 2011: It took just a little more than five months for a new project to come along. At a City Council work session, Minnetonka-based Solomon Real Estate Group described a plan to build two 6,500-square-foot retail buildings that did not initially appear to require rezoning and would better fit the city’s vision. It involved three pieces of property: the BP site, a sliver of land owned by Cambridge Towers and a property owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. When Solomon first presented the idea, the company didn’t have any tenants lined up. But it expected retail businesses and a “fast casual restaurant”—noting that Noodles & Co. had expressed interest in the site. “I hate to say I told you so to that attorney that came to the (June) rezoning,” said Kersten Elverum, Hopkins’ director of economic development and planning.
Late March 2012: Solomon Real Estate Group bought the BP site at a sheriff’s sale. However, Minnesota law gives the original commercial property owner six months after the sale to pay off his debt and reclaim the property—meaning Solomon couldn’t take possession of the site any earlier than Oct. 1.
July 10, 2012: Despite not having official ownership of the site yet, Solomon asked Hopkins for permission to kick off the building approval process in order for it to make as much progress as possible before winter. In most cases, city ordinances only allow owners to apply for the types of approval the BP site requires. But Steve Johnson, Solomon’s development partner, wondered about the effect a delay would have on the potential tenants: “Can we hold onto them? I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not here to threaten anybody or do anything like that, but it is a possibility I have to face.”
Aug. 13, 2012: Citing city ordinances and the bad precedent it would set, the City Council refused to let Solomon start working on the site until it actually took ownership. The council did promise to use an accelerated process once Solomon formally owned the site.
Sept. 28, 2012: Solomon took possession of the BP site.
Oct. 9, 2012: With the site under its ownership at last, Solomon presented its latest plan to the City Council—two buildings with about 12,000 square feet of retail space. The design was not what drew the most attention in the community, though. Instead, numerous people thrilled to learn the tenants who’d be moving in— Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Bruegger’s Bagels, Sprint store and Fantastic Sams, with space for one or two more businesses. Community interest was so big the story was one of the biggest on Patch for the month.
Oct. 15, 2012: St. Louis Park gave final review of the Minnesota Department of Transportation parcel, which sat within the neighboring community’s boundaries.
Oct. 22, 2012: The Hopkins Zoning and Planning Commission approved the plan for the project. A Cambridge Street couple worried about traffic and trash, but the project received unanimous approval.
Oct. 23, 2012:The City Council unanimously approved four measures necessary for the project to move forward: A preliminary final plat, rezoning of the old BP site at 525 Blake Road, site plan approval for the BP site and the planned unit development overlay, which allows site-specific development that may deviate from the underlying zoning standards.
Moving forward: The council will sign off on the final pieces of the project Nov. 7. Demolition and groundbreaking will take place this fall. Solomon is aiming for a July 2013 opening.