Financial concerns have continued to delay construction work at PLACE’s Via Sol project on Highway 7 in St. Louis Park.
“Construction at Via Sol has paused due to a cash-flow issue with the developer,” wrote St. Louis Park Community Development Director Karen Barton in a June 2 email in response to questions about the project’s status. “The developer has indicated they are in the process of securing a bridge loan and that construction will re-start after they have closed on the loan. In our most recent discussions with the developer, they were hopeful that the loan closing would occur in the next several weeks.”
Barton added, “In the meantime, the property has been secured by the developer and a security firm is monitoring the property.”
In response to a question about how the city would respond if the site is left as is without any further progress, Barton said, “The city will continue to monitor the situation. We’re hopeful that it will be resolved soon.”
PLACE Executive Director Chris Velasco indicated the work is diminished rather than entirely on hold.
“Work continues at Via Sol although greatly slowed,” Velasco said in a June 3 email. “This slow down is due to a number of factors including cash flow and material shortages. We are addressing these issues and expect work to ramp back up to full speed over the next sixty days.”
The project’s 217 apartments and live-work spaces designed for creatives “will be ready for occupancy this fall,” Velasco wrote.
“We have begun to take deposits and have a waiting list of over 250,” he said.
Velasco pointed to a new site for updates, vialiving.org.
“Via Sol represents a whole new way to live sustainably and affordably,” the site’s homepage says. “Adjacent to a bike trail and future light-rail station, car-free living is a reality. Live/work space for creatives, and the Urban Art Forest add a vibrancy to the community. Organics are recycled onsite into food and energy, along with power captured from the sun and wind.
“Stay tuned as our website grows.”
The site links to PLACE’s main site, welcometoplace.org, as well as the management company, Metro Plains, at metroplains.com. Metro Plains has been conducting monthly virtual events about the project, according to its website. A form to express interest is available for the apartments, which are planned to include both market-rate and affordable units.
Past finance issues
PLACE previously faced financial challenges for the original project, which city leaders have helped plan for years. The plan had included development on both sides of the Southwest Light Rail Transit line, but the southern section called Via Luna has been scrapped.
Last year, a PLACE contractor filed a claim against city-owned property that would have been used for Via Luna if it had proceeded. LHB, an independent contractor PLACE hired for architectural and engineering work on the southern site, filed a mechanic’s lien against the property for more than $257,000. A city staff report indicated PLACE had not paid the contractor the majority of funds owed on time and that the lien filing created a default under PLACE’s contract with the city.
St. Louis Park earlier this year entered into a preliminary development agreement with Saturday Properties and Anderson Cos. to redevelop the southern site near West 36th Street and Wooddale Avenue with a plan that includes two six-story buildings.
The Via Sol site to the north broke ground in 2019, long after the City Council originally granted approvals. However, Velasco wrote in a letter in November 2019, “The site turned out to be even more contaminated than environmental studies had shown. Remediation took longer and cost nearly twice as much as had been budgeted. All contaminated conditions have now been abated.”
The letter at the time indicated that LHB had taken over the Via Luna project from another architecture firm after a dispute.
Velasco canceled the Via Luna project in a subsequent letter to city officials that said, “We cannot understand why a project bringing so much public good would have a more difficult approval path than for-profit projects for the wealthy.”
That letter prompted objections from several council members at the time. For example, former Councilmember Anne Mavity said of the remaining Via Sol project, “Now this becomes a big risk and funding would be lost if the project were not to continue.”
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