South St. Paul has signed off on what would be the city’s first new multifamily development built from the ground up in decades, a project that calls for 264 market-rate apartments and aligns with a vision of getting more people living in the Concord Exchange commercial area.
Under a plan approved by the city council Tuesday, Hopkins-based developer Beard Group will build a four-level apartment building on the southern part of a 4-acre site at the northwest corner of Concord Exchange and Grand Avenue. It will include a rooftop patio, swimming pool and dog park, among other amenities.
An adjacent second apartment building with 109 units is also planned, but has yet to be reviewed by the city council.
The estimated $60 million project will be known as “The Yards,” a name that pays homage to the city’s storied stockyards, which shut down in 2008 after a 122-year run.
To make the project happen, Beard Group bought a vacant office building at 201 N. Concord Exchange, and worked out a $1.6 million deal to purchase from the city’s economic development authority a large, two-tiered surface parking lot and a small parcel recently split off of Grandview Park located up a bluff.
Former tenants of the office building include Cenex and Securian Financial, but the space has been vacant for about seven years, said Ryan Garcia, the city’s economic and community development director.
The current market demand is residential and not office, Garcia said. He noted how in 2018 the former Wells Fargo office building, located directly across Grand Avenue and also along Concord Exchange, was flipped into a 67-unit apartment complex, known as “The Drover.”
“The writing has kind of been on the wall,” he said. “It’s just not a strong office market down there, and it’s really hard to try and backfill those spaces with a restaurant or grocery store when there’s not really much activity after 5 o’clock when the business park shuts down.”
Even more apartments are in the works. Master Properties, the Minneapolis-based developer behind The Drover is planning to build on adjacent land a four-level apartment complex that could have as many as 150 units.
Garcia said the city’s hope is that the developments are a catalyst for more housing and retail.
“We get 400 more new residential units down there,” he said, “and hopefully that spurs excitement in the area or brings a little bit of confidence that a coffee shop or a restaurant — once we can get through COVID — wants to start looking more seriously.”
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Mayor Jimmy Francis said he has heard from business owners who are concerned about the parking lot going away with The Yards project.
Garcia said Beard Group will convert the current parking on the west side of Concord Exchange from parallel parking to slant parking, bringing more than 30 new on-street stalls that can be used by businesses.
Also, more street parking will be added along nearby Concord Street as part of a major redevelopment project that will get underway this year, Garcia said.
Moreover, he said, the demand for a large parking lot waned when the office buildings became vacant. Nevertheless, parking has been a key area of focus for city staff and the developers, he said.
“It’s not just about the new buildings; it’s really about making sure the whole district works together,” he said.
Residents of The Yards will have two levels of underground parking and a parking lot between the two apartment buildings.
As part of a development agreement with the city, Beard Group will replace sidewalks, add lighting and build a corner plaza with public art, Garcia said.
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