New restaurants, future plans lead to optimistic view of the future

Perhaps for the first time in many years, the word “vibrant” can accurately be used to describe downtown Lakeville.

The addition of popular restaurants Alibi Drinkery, B-52 Burgers and Brew, and Lakeville Brewing Company has been the catalyst for making the area a destination point for residents who long have had to look elsewhere for places to gather with family and friends.

“It’s great to see the parking lots full and the streets full,” said Lakeville resident Mark Hotzler, a major downtown land owner and a member of the Lakeville Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve started to hear from people who say they can’t find a parking space. But what they’re really saying is they might have to park a block away instead of right in front of the building. That’s a good thing.”

One look at the city’s Downtown Development Guide, updated in 2018 for the first time since 2006, suggests that a good thing could turn into a great thing. Over the next 10-20 years, extensive redevelopment and expansion projects as varied as new structures sharing residential and retail space, the creation of an arts center campus that enhances the Lakeville Area Arts Center, and new multi-family housing options have the chance to turn dreams into reality.

“It’s good to have a vision,” Lakeville Mayor Doug Anderson said. “Obviously it is up to a lot of other folks and for people to see the opportunity within the vision. So from the chamber of commerce to local property owners, it’s the ability to look into ways to invest into that vision.

“We’ve built a lot of momentum the last 10 years because we had that development guide in place and we’ve built toward that. Businesses have made decisions to come here; they’ve seen the opportunity. So it’s good old economic theory that’s working.”

Lakeville Community and Economic Development Director Dave Olson preaches patience, saying that the new year will not necessarily bring major changes. But interest remains high for any properties that might become available.

“I refer to ours as organic redevelopment,” Olson said. “We didn’t go out and buy properties and then find a developer, which is how some cities approach it. That’s never been the preferred approach here. We coordinate projects as people approach us.”

Despite the addition of the three restaurants downtown, there is a clear need for more. A study done for the development guide found that the area within a five-minute drive of downtown is underserved in terms of eating and drinking establishments by nearly $11 million in spending per year.

“We’re always looking at what we can bring into downtown that complements what we have going on there,” said Hotzler, whose company, Metro Equity Management, has been accumulating downtown properties for over 20 years. “We have had all kinds of people who have shown interest. There are certain things we would love to have that we don’t have right now. We would love to have a bakery. A breakfast place would be awesome. Italian would be great.”

Metro Equity owns Dairy Delite —both the land and the business — and Hotzler said it will remain a fixture downtown. However, his plans is to expand the building to include indoor seating, making it a year-round option for customers.

“There are demands for places to eat lunch, particularly (from workers) out of Airlake (Industrial Park),” Anderson said. “There are people who are going out for lunch that are making choices to go to other places. Clearly, with 65,000 people (in Lakeville) there is more need, and people love variety.”

The city itself is expected to be among those interested in purchasing land downtown. The Lakeville Area School District owns the building that currently houses the Area Learning Center (ALC), but hopes to build a new school in the near future.

Repairs and improvements at the current facility would cost in excess of $1 million, according to District 194 Superintendent Michael Baumann, which is not deemed cost-effective due to the age and condition of the building. The ALC is next to the Arts Center, and the city is interested in using the land to expand the art center’s footprint.

Any sale likely wouldn’t come this year due to other projects the school district have prioritized, but having property to sell in a desirable area will help offset some of the costs of the new ALC.

“We would optimize for the school district any sale of that property,” Baumann said. “We work with the city on many, many things, and we both always keep in mind that our taxpayers deserve a dividend and a return on any investments they make. We have no disagreements in that area.”

Olson said the city would be ready to begin negotiations on a sale as soon as the school district is ready. He sees the potential redevelopment of the site to be a key step toward improving the downtown experience.

“The arts center has become one of the anchors of downtown,” Olson said. “This development plan talks about a pavilion and a public space there, a multi-purpose space that would include activities that would support the arts center.”

Anderson said he recently toured a building being developed in downtown Hastings that features art studios and retail space on the first floor, with artist housing above. The building is the work of a national organization called Artspace, whose mission is to, “create, foster, and preserve affordable and sustainable space for artists and arts organizations.”

Tom Ruesink, chair of the Lakeville Arts Center Advisory Board, said there is a clear need for more space. The Arts Center is in the early stages of creating a long-term building plan. Asked specifically about the possibility of working with Artspace, Ruesink said, “I’m sure we’ll do our due diligence on a wide range of options. We’re just at the beginning of the process.”

The Lakeville Mall, which includes the post office, is seen as a dated structure and not in tune with the vision for downtown. As the owner of the property, Hotzler views it as a perfect location for a mixed-use building, with retail space on the ground floor and housing above.

The city has a preferred plan for the future of the post office, as well.

“I would love to be part of more conversations about moving its processing facility out to Airlake,” Anderson said. “There are some parking issues at the current site, and in terms of best compatible use it’s probably not in the best location. If we move the processing center, there still could be a retail office downtown.”

Added Olson: “Northfield did it, and we would support doing that in Lakeville. But we’re not in the driver’s seat on that. It’s up to the postal service. We have had off and on discussions about it with various postmasters. The feature of that whole mall is likely to be affected by what the post office decides to do.”

The 2006 development guide proposed the extension of Iberia Avenue south from 205th Street to 210th Street, which would create new access to downtown from the west. That remains a part of the updated guide, which eventually would coincide with redevelopment of land currently occupied by factories. The plan calls for multi-family housing that would be added to the western edge of downtown, with the railroad tracks acting as buffer for the adjacent single-family homes.

“Most of the multi-family housing we have downtown is senior and affordable,” Olson said. “Whether it’s townhomes, condos or twin homes — if someone wanted to come in and do a building at market rate, I think there would be interest in that.”

Anderson sees the Iberia extension as an important piece to the puzzle.

“It would involve some changes with some current buildings, which is always hard,” he said, “but having the vision there helps us as a community settle in to the opportunity. With more people seeing that opportunity they get a sense of what that would feel like in terms of solidifying the downtown. That it includes more than old downtown, but also a new part of downtown.”

A related change that Olson said he sees coming in the immediate future is the extension of the Lake Marion Greenway trail system, which ends abruptly at the western edge of downtown. The city’s parks department also is working with Dakota County to try to improve visibility and access to the trail, Olson said. A Greenway gateway and trailhead is proposed, which could feature such amenities as bike parking and public restrooms.

The city and county are working with a consultant on a feasibility study, which is expected to be completed in the next six months of 2020. Parks and Recreation Director John Hennen is coordinating the city’s involvement in the study.

“The county is looking at a county-wide greenway system of which (the Lake Marion Greenway) would be part of it,” Anderson pointed out. “So it would put us in a partnership with the county.”

Dean Spiros can be reached at lakeville.thisweek@ecm-inc.com.

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