The Richfield City Council, Planning Commission and the Housing and Redevelopment Authority heard a presentation of the preliminary plans for redevelopment of the American Legion Post 435 during a Tuesday, April 26, council work session.
Constructed in 1956, the American Legion building sits on a 4-plus-acre site at 6501 Portland Ave. The facility, according to city staff, has been largely vacant since early 2020.
Though no action was called for nor taken, councilmembers and commissioners expressed their appreciation for the work done in preparing the initial presentation.
Plans for the redevelopment of the parcel, which is adjacent to the Ice Arena, the city pool, and the Veterans Memorial show two U-shaped structures with a central courtyard and common plaza. The structures would include housing units, a restaurant, a ballroom and the American Legion offices.
Elwyn Tinklenberg, project management consultant, led the presentation and answered many of the questions, while emphasizing the importance of a project that fits into the community.
“A couple of things that jumped out at me when reading the overlay report ... was connectivity and ... continuity,” he said. “We’re making sure that whatever happens with this site that it is connected with the park, connected with the neighborhood, and connected with the heritage and history of the Post.”
Tinklenberg stressed the importance of the Legion remaining in Richfield.
“The Legion has been a strong presence in the community for a long, long time. Their commitment to the community is what really drives this. They want to continue to have a presence here. It would have been easy – and lots of posts are doing this – they are selling their property and moving away. This post wants to be here, and wants to continue to serve the community and be a force within the community.”
Preliminary plans show the two buildings, both with underground parking, sitting west of the ice arena, north of the pool, and south of the Veterans Park.
“We put together a plan that takes its cues from those issues of connectivity and continuity,” Tinklenberg said. “The site is oriented with the park, the Ice Arena, and the pool.”
The plan also calls for landscaping and trees to soften the appearance of a building that would have a front designed to look like a brownstone.
While the easternmost structure will include parking and apartments, the western structure would be constructed with a restaurant, a ballroom and the American Legion offices on the ground floor.
Tinklenberg said the initial reaction from Post 435 members when they were told the current structure would be replaced was one of resistance. However, when the discussion turned toward providing apartments for veterans, especially those having difficulty finding long-term housing, the tone turned and the support was significant, he said.
“A veterans preference at the facility, that’s been part of the discussion from the beginning,” Tinklenberg said.
He went on to say that his discussions with Veterans Affairs housing specialists confirmed the notion that there is an “urgent need for veterans housing. That is an important part of the overall goal of the Post in providing this kind of facility for veterans,” Tinklenberg said.
He also described a potential for short-term housing availability for families having patients at the Veterans Hospital.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen more harmony and support among the membership. When we came across the idea of housing, we asked, ‘Why not use this space for vets?’ When we brought that up, there was a sea change of attitudes among the (Post 435) membership. We think the concept has brought everyone together, and we’re hopeful that if this succeeds it becomes an example of partnership between communities and the state.”
Following the presentation, there were questions and compliments for presenting a project that is in line with the city’s long-term goals.
Responses included concerns about too much parking, and how to regulate the parking between the new facilities, the pool and the Ice Arena.
Councilmember Ben Whalen raised the parking issue, asking if the number of stalls could be reduced. Tinklenberg said those aspects of the project would be addressed as the engineers and planners begin making more intricate changes to the overall plan.
Tinklenberg said in a phone interview following the meeting that the project will now start to be refined with the help of engineers and architects. “We will add detail to it and prepare for submission to the city as a part of the permitting process,” he said.
That preparation, as well as completion of the financing process, is expected to continue through the summer.
Tinklenberg said he feels the project is off to a good start. “We were very pleased with the reaction and enthusiasm of the folks who were (at the meeting),” he said.