A developer is considering building a business incubator and year-round greenhouse at the site formerly occupied by the Huntington Pointe apartment complex. The proposal, which is still in its early development phases, was supported by the Brooklyn Park City Council at its April 19 meeting.
The project could potentially bring between 150 and 300 jobs to the now-vacant site.
“It’s a grand vision, and it’s very intriguing and it does align with some of the planning that’s been done around the site, but we do need to explore funding options, and there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered,” said Sarah Abe, project facilitator.
The City Council, acting as the Economic Development Authority, approved a $12,500 grant for the developer to continue analyzing the unsolicited proposal’s feasibility. The grant is a local match required to apply for a larger $50,000 Metropolitan Council Livable Communities Demonstration Account grant. This annual grant provides pre-development funds for projects that increase access to housing, jobs, services and transportation in the region.
The project is being proposed by New Africa Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit start-up developer. It would be constructed as a cooperative effort with two existing companies: Garden Fresh Farms and Cut Fruit Express.
When fully built out, the 200,000-square-foot facility would include a 70,000-square-foot business incubator space, as well as an indoor farm and food processing facility.
Located at the southwest corner of Regent Avenue and Brooklyn Boulevard, the property was purchased by the city in 2006 and is now located in the city’s federally identified Opportunity Zone, a designation which offers tax incentives for developers providing capital investment.
The location along a bus route and the Opportunity Zone designation both made the site attractive, said Matthew Ramadan, president of New Africa. The project partners are looking to expand their operations shortly, he said.
“They’re not looking for a three-year community discussion process,” he said. “One of the things that was attractive about the Brooklyn Park site was not only the access. Currently Cut Fruit Express is located in Inver Grove Heights and they have a difficult time getting workers to come out there because there’s no easy bus service, there’s no easy access. Right there on Brooklyn Boulevard where there actually is a bus stop at Regent was very, very attractive.”
New Africa has experience with business incubation in Maple Grove, Ramadan said.
“When we saw that this was something that the city was also interested in doing, we said, ‘Well, we have a little bit of experience doing this, we think we can help,’” he said.
The site has sat empty since the city demolished the 306 one-bedroom apartment units in the Huntington Pointe complex there more than a decade ago. While housing developers have recently expressed interest in the site, no projects have moved forward.
The city has shied away from housing users at the site, with preffered users including light industrial, small business or mixed use, recent planning documents note.
Grant funds are expected be used for pre-development work such as development of site plans, soil testing, community engagement, financial modeling, and feasibility testing for environmentally friendly power sources such as a geothermal field or solar panels at the site.
The council was enthusiastic about moving forward with the development.
Councilmember Susan Pha said that the community has asked for unique development proposals that offer community benefits at the site.
“I’m excited just because it’s something I think is great for our community here,” Pha said.
Councilmembers Boyd Morson, Terry Parks, Wynfred Russell and Lisa Jacobson concurred.
“I think we provide a unique opportunity for a unique business,” Morson said.
Jacobson asked that the partners consider donating unsold items to local food shelves.
“I’m very excited about this project, this is something we’ve talked about for two or three years now,” Parks said.
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