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Midway Center owner is selling off Big Top Liquor property

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin

aerialsite20131107_7Redevelopment of the one of the Midway area’s largest sites may be moving ahead, although perhaps not in a way envisioned. Midway Center owner RK Midway LLC is proceeding with plans to split off the property where Big Top Liquors, 1574 University Ave., is located. Union Park District Council’s Land Use Committee voted Apr. 20 to recommend approval of the plans.

The lot split could allow redevelopment of that part of the shopping center property to move ahead more quickly. Joe Finley, attorney for RK Midway, said the split also has financial implications. It would get that portion of the property out from under from the current mortgage covering most of the shopping center property. Center owners are in the process of refinancing the property.

The 1950s-era shopping center is part of a 34.5-acre property bounded by St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues and Pascal St. Metropolitan Council owns 10 acres that was occupied for many years by a Metro Transit bus maintenance and garage facility. RK Midway owns the rest of the property, although the city has an option to buy the 4.5-acre vacant site at the northwest corner of Pascal and St. Anthony.

Many development ideas have been suggested over the years for the various properties, but none have come to fruition.

Last year plans were approved for a drive-through lane so that Walgreens could move from the main shopping center into the former Midway/American Bank building at Snelling and University avenues. But Walgreens hasn’t decided to actually move its store.

City, Metropolitan Council and RK Midway owners spent several months working with consultants on an ambitious plan to redevelop the entire block for high-density mixed use. A so-called “SmartSite” plan, released last year, would have a mix of housing and commercial uses, with a new street grid and green spaces. It would be built out over a period lasting 15 years.

But a roughly $30 million financial gap has property owners reconsidering their plans. Preliminary estimates are that just new development infrastructure would cost $67 million. That breaks down to $40 million for structured or ramp parking, $5.8 million for streets, $5.6 million for drainage improvements, and $2.2 million to create 1.3 acres of park land.

That price tag would mean that infrastructure costs are predicted to be up to $30 million more than anticipated revenue from land sales. Costs increase as development phases continue. “Projected market values suggest that this gap is unlikely to close in a reasonable time frame,” a Metropolitan Council staff report stated.

In March, Metropolitan Council officials discussed some next steps for the old bus barn property, and possibly pursuing redevelopment of that site on its own. Council members have indicated they’d still like to see a future land owner/developer tie into the SmartSite plans. No decision has been made.

“We’re a little disappointed,” Finley said of Metropolitan Council’s recent actions. But RK Midway wants to forge ahead with redevelopment.  The subdivision would include the Big Top building, parking lots to its north and east, and the shopping center entrances from Spruce Tree Dr. and Asbury St., creating a flag-shaped lot.

The shopping center property currently has a large main lot and three smaller outlots. The split would create a fourth outlot. Lot splits are typically done by city staff, but RK Midway went to the district council because of past discussion of redevelopment plans.
The part of the site occupied by the Big Top building is eyed for mixed residential-retail development. The liquor store occupies about half of the building. The rest has been vacant for many years. If and when the property is redeveloped, Finley said center owners would work to relocate Big Top elsewhere in the center.

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