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Minn. developers eye light rail corridors

By Scott Carlson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — A stone’s throw from the Hi-Lake Shopping Center it developed in Minneapolis, Wellington Management Inc. has preliminary plans to break ground next spring on a mixed-use project that calls for about 55 apartments and 8,500 square feet of retail space.

In St. Paul, where the developer is based, Wellington completed the Metro Lofts mixed-used development in 2006. And immediately behind the Metro Lofts is Emerald Gardens, a 212-condominium development the company built in 2005.

What all three projects have in common, said Judd Fenlon, Wellington director of real estate development, is their proximity to existing or planned light rail train routes.

Fenlon spoke at a recent panel discussion hosted by the Minnesota Shopping Center Association on how transportation projects and federal stimulus spending are creating commercial real estate opportunities in the Twin Cities.

Fenlon said the anticipated start of major construction this summer for the Central Corridor light rail line — from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul via University Avenue — is a prime example of where Wellington is looking to undertake more development.

Wellington’s proposed five-story building at the Hi-Lake’s vacant triangle property would have one floor of retail and four stories of rental housing. The project is contingent on gaining various city approvals.

Fenlon said the Hi-Lake center is where Wellington “cut its teeth on these light-rail (related) developments.”

His company bought the 125,000-square-foot center in 2004 for about $6 million and since then has invested about $3 million in the property. Today, the center is about 60 percent occupied, he said.

Both St. Paul projects were built in anticipation of the Central Corridor light rail project, said Joanne Henry, a spokeswoman for Wellington Management.

Fenlon said Wellington also plans to build a project just west of the Metro Lofts that would have about 80,000 square feet of office space and 20,000 square feet for retail, including a grocery store. No groundbreaking date has been set, but Fenlon said he anticipates the project — called 2700 University Avenue — will get under way before the $957 million central corridor line is expected to open in 2014.

“We are working hard on financing” for 2700 University Avenue, Fenlon said.

Karen Lyons, a senior planner at the Metropolitan Council who also spoke during the panel discussion, said a wealth of other development is expected along light rail corridors.

That includes another 9,000 housing units “waiting in the wings” near Hiawatha Avenue train stations and 11,500 units built or in construction along the Central Corridor with another 7,850 proposed, Lyons said.

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