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Project would turn car lot into retail hub

Scott Carlson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — Twin Cities auto seller Rick Kline plans to transform his vacant car dealership along University Avenue into a multitenant retail development.

Dubbed University Commons, the project will offer nearly 25,000 square feet of pedestrian street-level retail as well as auto-oriented retail opportunities, said Dean Dovolis, CEO of DJR Architecture Inc., which is designing the project for Kline.

“This development by the Kline Group is the first new retail project on the north side of University and Snelling avenues in St. Paul,” Dovolis said. “This is the first step in what will be restructuring of that whole retail area” in the Midway district.

Dovolis said he expects the Kline Group to submit site plans for city review within the next month.

“If we hustle, we could have parts of this (project) ready to go this fall, renovating the buildings and maybe even having a couple tenants in place,” he said.

The new development plan would renovate and put new facades on the two buildings on the site, and combine the separate parking lots into one large common lot with about 60 parking spaces, Dovolis said.
Kline, president of Kline Auto World, could not be reached for comment.

Most recently, the Kline site at University Avenue and Pascal Street has been home to an auto parts store and a laundry.

Mark Krogh, a principal at Minneapolis-based Java Properties, said he is close to leasing space at University Commons for a national restaurant. He declined to identify the prospective tenant.

Asked why the Kline Group is redeveloping the site, Krogh said, “It is not the highest, best use right now. They are sitting on a city block with a huge opportunity to capture more rent. This is great property.”

The Kline project is a small piece of what officials said they expect will be a major transformation along University Avenue, which will serve as the route of the Central Corridor light rail transit line connecting downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Construction on the light rail line is expected to begin this summer with the line in service by 2014. Kline’s property on University Avenue is next to a future light rail stop.

Until about the 1990s, University Avenue had been the home to several auto dealerships.

Brian McMahon, executive director of University United, said the light rail line now could spawn as much as $100 million in development near each of the corridor’s 10 rail stations.

“We need to capture this valuable public investment in transportation with development where we will see more housing, jobs, taxes and more of the benefits that everyone wants,” McMahon said.

McMahon said that is more likely to happen when property owners come up with development plans that encompass one to three blocks at a time.

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