Developers still have work to do on the first proposal to be submitted under new design guidelines for the Southdale District, according to the Edina City Council.
U.S. Bank has plans to redevelop the block on the prime southeast corner of 70th Street and France Avenue, turning it into a mixed-use destination with retail, a new bank building and 200 apartment units spread between two residential buildings. But in presenting those preliminary plans to the council this month, developers were told their vision left much to be desired.
“We haven’t captured yet, I think, what we need to capture here together,” Mayor Jim Hovland said at the July 16 meeting, addressing a piece of land viewed as pivotal to the redevelopment of the Southdale District.
Partnering with Ryan Companies, U.S. Bank is setting out to redevelop the 5.7-acre site, currently home to an office building and a parking lot. However, the Edina City Council is calling for a revision of those plans before it will grant the zoning changes the project requires.
In their critiques, council members cited the new Greater Southdale District Design Experience Guidelines that apply to the area. The guidelines call for an emphasis on pedestrian movement and public spaces, with blocks divided into 200-foot by 200-foot grids. The project, as proposed, divides the block unevenly, just one aspect of the proposal that left the council dissatisfied.
“It’s just lacking that kind of big vision,” Councilmember Mike Fischer said.
The plans also fall short of the Southdale guidelines’ vision for the creation of new local streets, “which don’t exist here that I’m seeing just yet,” Councilmember Ron Anderson noted.
The council’s request for revisions came after Edina planning commissioners expressed their dissatisfaction the previous month. Ryan Companies responded by providing more detailed renderings of what the developer deems 1 acre of publicly accessible space that would be included in the project.
Carl Runck of Ryan Companies described a north-south pedestrian-oriented thoroughfare passing through the proposed property as a continuation of the Edina Promenade, a central piece of infrastructure for the Southdale District’s pedestrian-oriented vision. Some on the council argued the path, in the form described in the plans, cannot be considered part of the promenade.
“I’m looking for – and not seeing – graceful transitions,” not within the site nor on its borders, Brindle said.
An ‘Edina feel’
In highlighting the virtues of their proposal, the developers noted their plan essentially turns a parking lot into a mixed-used development that embraces public space. The property would have an “Edina feel,” lending a “modern edge” to traditional design expressions, said Josh Eckstrand, director of design for Ryan Companies. Eckstrand painted a picture of “contemplative” spaces, restaurant patios and other outdoor gathering nodes on the property.
Brindle, though, said it makes her “shiver” to hear the architecture described as “modern.” To illustrate her point, she mentioned two new multi-unit housing developments in the Southdale District that she believes haven’t aged well.
“We have ‘modern’ at 1 Southdale Place. It’s very dated. It’s already dated. We have ‘modern’ at 71 France. It’s already dated. Edina has a desire and need for classic architecture,” she said.
The U.S. Bank project, which would include a 120-unit market rate apartment building and an 80-unit affordable apartment building, is far from run-of-the-mill, Runck said.
“This is not just another apartment building,” he said of the market-rate building. It will, he noted, consist of large units with oversized windows and terraces, helping to meet the market demands created by empty-nesters seeking a transition to apartment-style living.
While the block would no longer be one big parking lot, the plans still featured too much visible retail surface parking for the council’s comfort. More landscaping might help block that view, Anderson suggested.
For Councilmember Kevin Staunton, the 1- to 1.5-story height of the proposed retail buildings along France Avenue is too short, representing his “biggest beef” with the project.
One France Avenue-facing feature of the proposal is the bank’s glass-enclosed “community room,” which developers put forth as evidence of the project’s community-oriented focus.
The new bank building itself, which is situated on the southwest corner of the block in the plans, is substantially smaller than the building currently occupying the block. “It’s a smaller footprint for the future of banking,” Runck said.
Hovland thinks the building should be grander. “I just feel that the building you’re proposing diminishes its presence in Edina, and makes it seem like you’re shrinking rather than growing,” he said.
Both Hovland and Brindle advocated for the new bank building to be placed on the development’s most prominent corner, 70th and France, instead of its proposed location further south on the site.
“It’s the finest commercial corner in Edina that’s available for redevelopment, no question about it,” Hovland said. “There should be things on this corner that speak to the finest of locations.”
The mayor would like to see a premium Class A office building on the site, with space above the bank for other tenants.
“That begs the question for me of why not more height on France Avenue?” Hovland said.
Aside from criticizing the proposed location of the new bank building, Brindle was also unsatisfied with how the two apartment buildings are arranged.
Brindle wants the market rate and affordable unit types to be mixed between the two buildings instead of being housed separately. Those buildings, she added, should more closely resemble each other. “One looks affordable, and the other looks luxury,” she said.
Despite the shortfalls noted by the council, Hovland admitted the proposal represents a significant upgrade over the aging office building and sea of concrete that currently occupy the site. “It’s such a significant improvement over what’s there that it’s painful to be critical,” he said.
Anderson acknowledged the challenge that developers face as they try to meet the standards described in the Southdale District design guidelines. “I’m sensitive to the fact that this would be the first project proposed under those guidelines,” he said.
Anderson included a dose of encouragement in his critique, telling developers, “I think you’re working on something that could be terrific.”
Hovland, though, was unequivocal in summarizing the council’s response to the preliminary plans.
“We want to partner with you here and we just want this corner, this 5.7 acres, to reach its potential,” Hovland said. “I don’t think any of us think we’re there yet.”
– Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent
This article was corrected from its original version. The proposed project is not on the southwest corner of 70th & France, but the southeast corner.