Should the City do a new TIF to bring a pharmacy/convenience store to The Crossing?

Nfld News: Interest renewed in Crossing site

Nfld Patch:  Pharmacy-Oriented Business Interested in Northfield Crossings Development

The largely vacant mixed-use development at the corner of Hwy. 3 and Second Street could receive a desperately needed boost if an unnamed retail business proceeds with initial plans to develop the southern portion of the property.

John Wall, representing Highlands Bank, which owns the Crossings property, told the Northfield City Council on Tuesday that after nearly two years of unsuccessful courting he has received interest in from a "well-known, well-established, creditworthy company" that would include a pharmacy, a drive-thru and convenience store items.

Northfield CrossingWe have 5 pharmacies now: Northfield Pharmacy, Village Drug, Econofoods, Cub Pharmacy, and Walgreen’s.  It may be good news to have any commercial business interested in the The Crossing, as the site has languished for years now.

But I don’t think the City should "amend the city’s regulatory process for the property, as well as enter into a new tax financing agreement, to induce the business to continue pursuing its interest in the site."

I don’t see how a big Walgreen’s-type store (it sounds like it’s CVS) on that development helps makes The Crossing an attractive ‘gateway to downtown Northfield’  that was originally planned and that we’ll be pleased with ten years from now.

Northfield Crossing: still messy after all these years

Construction debris at Northfield Crossing Construction debris at Northfield Crossing Construction debris at Northfield Crossing
It’s been two and a half years since Highland Bank foreclosed on the Northfield Crossing development and a sizeable portion of the surrounding property is still a mess. I took these photos last week.

I first complained about the mess in 2007. In June, 2008, I blogged: Banks foreclose on The Crossing; now the City should clean up the surrounding property. A year later, June 2009, I added a comment containing the text of an email from Brian O’Connell, Northfield community development director, on the status of the clean-up.

The relationship is that the clean up items are essentially the same items. Piper wants to renegotiate the TIF note, Council is saying they would consider renegotiating the note if the site clean up issues are completed. Highland is now the owner of the residential condominium to which the clean up items are related. So Highland is now determining the cost to complete the items to see if they can complete in time which will assist in unit sales efforts. Everyone wants the same thing; the issue is determining cost and identifying sources of money to pay the expense.

WTF is taking so long to clean up this ‘gateway to downtown Northfield’

Demolition artists Ross Currier and Dan Bergeson Demolition artists Ross Currier and Dan Bergeson 2 Demolition artists Ross Currier and Dan Bergeson 3
This portion of the property doesn’t look that much better than it did in 2005 when NDDC‘s Dan Bergeson and Ross Currier took matters into their own hands and personally demolished seven buildings when it was known as the Riverfront Development Site. I think we need them again to take charge, this time to haul all the construction shit out of there.

Dan? Ross? How about it?

There is some good news, however. There have been some improvements to other (city-owned?) parts of the property in recent weeks: streetscape-style decorative fencing along Hwy. 3, with many new trees planted.

Streetscape improvements at Northfield Crossing

The Crossing gets a new website; commercial lots now for sale

The Crossing The Crossing has a new website for marketing both the residential condos in the building named the Edgewater, as well as the adjacent commercial lots.

The Crossing, not Northfield Crossings

I just wish they’d get the lingo correct. It’s ‘The Crossing’ (singular), not ‘The Crossings’ (some pages on the website) nor ‘Northfield Crossings’ (big yellow sign at the corner of 2nd St. and Hwy 3.

City cleanup of business property: what’s the criteria and who pays?

old Tires Plus site The old Tires Plus site got some spiffing up (sweeping, lawn mowing) by City of Northfield workers last week (photo courtesy of Tim Freeland).  I don’t understand why this was done relatively quickly while the weeds and construction debris at The Crossing have been a problem for years. And who’s paying for it?

Highland Bank and Dianne Kyte take over The Crossing

Diane Kyte The Crossing I waved Dianne Kyte, a realtor with Coldwell Banker South Metro, over to my corner office at GBM yesterday morning to ask her for an update on the status of the residential condo building at The Crossing where she lives. She confirmed that Highland Bank has taken over ownership of it from the developer, Mendota Homes. (The bank foreclosed on the property 6 months ago.)

Dianne has the listing for the seven unoccupied finished units (street address: 101 St Olaf Avenue N). And yes, the prices have been slashed. (continued)

Continue reading Highland Bank and Dianne Kyte take over The Crossing

Piper Jaffray’s request to change the TIF for The Crossing: translation, please?

The CrossingLast week the Northfield City Council heard a presentation from staff and an attorney re:  Piper Jaffray’s request to amend the tax increment financing (TIF) note for the Mendota Homes development called The Crossing. Some Councilors keyed in on the opportunity this might provide for site improvements and others expressed big picture concerns.  I understood very little of it all so a conversation here might help. (continued)

Continue reading Piper Jaffray’s request to change the TIF for The Crossing: translation, please?

Have liquor store discussions led to deeper understanding?


Discussions among visitors blossom and fade, to resurface another time or never again. Representative Journalism Project stories have had a similar cycle so far, but I’d like to insert a step when conversation about a topic begins to slow.

The goal of the step is to combine reader input and reported information into a single piece of writing. That way, a person can better see how the community and I worked together. I’m still figuring out what a final presentation of material would look like and how to make it as useful as possible, and I’m open to ideas from readers.

The latest online discussions surrounding a proposed new municipal liquor store subsided about three weeks ago (There are three discussion threads. Gleason offers land…” has had the most activity, followed by “EDA talks about trust…” and Two EDA members score…“).

The subject of whether and where to build a new liquor store is one that has surged intermittently among Northfielders since about 2005. In 2005, the City Council was considering renovating or moving the existing liquor store on the corner of Water and Fifth streets.

In August, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued two citations to the city after inspecting the store. Those citations indicated an electrical panel was too difficult for workers to access and that the stairway connecting the main floor to a storage room below was dangerous.

A lengthy delay

The existing City Council appears to favor building a new liquor store, but the council has struggled to decide where to build one. The decision was significantly delayed in 2007 when council members suspected Mayor J. Lee Lansing had pushed too hard in favor of putting the store in his son’s building at the south end of the downtown’s main drag. That building was one the family had operated as a hardware store for more than 30 years.

Lansing has denied any wrongdoing. Even so, the City Council voted in December 2007 to ask Lansing to resign, but Lansing refused to step down or relinquish the key to his office in city hall. The mayor and the council continued to work together, but the council had the lock changed on the mayor’s office door to prevent him from working there, and tension mounted.

In April, the Lansing family’s hardware store closed, partly as a result of a separate legal matter, according to an article published in the Northfield News. David Lansing, the mayor’s son, had to move the store as “part of a settlement of a 2006 lawsuit that centered around the hardware store building,” according to the article.

In October, the results of an investigation by Steve Betcher, the Goodhue County attorney, caused the mayor to face five charges of misconduct and two of maintaining a conflict of interest while in office.

In January, new City Council members Betsey Buckheit (Ward 2), Rhonda Pownell (At Large, two-year seat) and Erica Zweifel (Ward 3) will fill three of the council’s six seats, to replace, respectively, Scott Davis, Noah Cashman and Arnie Nelson. Mary Rossing will be the new mayor. The looming turnover has caused some people to believe that decisions about the liquor store should fall to the new council. Other people believe the existing council will be able to make a sound decision by year’s end Jan.4*. Others still are discontented that the council is no longer considering repairing the old store, or getting out of the liquor business altogether.

A new approach

In November, members of the city’s staff attempted to come up with a way to help the City Council decide where to build a new liquor store. They asked City Council to come up with basic criteria. The city staff added a few more requirements to the list and then asked property owners to submit proposals. In December, the council began to consider five proposals that fell into the boundaries of the requests, and stopped considering two proposals that fell beyond those boundaries.

The new owners of the former Lansing hardware store on 618 Division St., who do business as the New Division Development Company, submitted one of the proposals the council is currently considering. In addition, the council is considering a proposal submitted by Mendota Homes, which would build a new liquor store on the same property as The Crossing residential building, owned by Mendota. That proposed site is on the southeast corner of Second Street and State Highway 3. The Q-Block Partners is another corporation that submitted a proposal. The partners would build a store on a property across the street from The Crossing. The Northfield Development Company is proposing to develop a parcel on 500 Water St. into a new store. That property contains the Just Food cooperative grocery store. Daryl Knudsen proposed to build a store at 717 South Water St., where a multiple-family house stands now.

Despite the attempt to aid the council in its decision-making, the request for proposals process the spurred another wave of suspicion over whether someone in the city’s government was trying to be sneaky. Complications began when the city staff devised a score sheet in order to rate how closely each proposal met basic criteria.

Four different groups of people, which staff identified as important players in the proposed new liquor store development, filled out the score sheets. Those groups were: Victor Summa and Steve Engler of the Economic Development Authority’s Infill Committee; city staff, represented by Joel Walinski, interim city administrator, Brian O’Connell, community development director and Steve DeLong, liquor store manager; Northfield Enterprise Center representatives; and Donnelly Development representatives.

Northfielders debated the selection of people, the criteria on the score sheet and the ethics of rating the proposals before giving them to City Council. There was also debate over what parts of the proposals were private and what information could be revealed to the public.

The city staff released the score sheet, with the names of the each of the seven property owners who submitted proposals, in November. Walinski asked one of the city’s attorneys to look up state laws on confidential information regarding requests for proposals. He then publicly posted a memo containing information about the law.

Further complication

Perhaps the most significant debate occurred when Walinski said there were seven proposals and then Summa and Engler said that they had filled out score sheets for only five proposals when it had come time to rate the documents. On Nov. 20, Summa and Engler said city staff did not have score sheets for two of the proposals that had not met the minimum requirements in the request for proposals. Summa and Engler said they did not see the two eliminated proposals.

After Summa and Engler said they had scored only five proposals, Walinski said he could not comment on whether two more proposals had, in fact, been ruled out. That information, he said, was confidential. He added that he believed he had made it clear to Summa and Engler that any information about what they did during the scoring session was confidential.

Walinski’s remarks implied Summa and Engler had breached confidentiality. Still Summa, a retired documentary filmmaker and local political activist, and Engler, a former state senator, said they had not known the number of proposals was confidential, especially since city staff had released some information about the number of proposals and property owners previously.

The debate over the information Summa and Engler shared even seeped over to the Northfield News’ Web site. Jaci Smith, managing editor, responded to Summa’s written note of self-defense, which he posted on

“It seemed to me he violated the intent if not the actual rules of the process,” Smith wrote.

Walinski has since twice refused to publicly clarify why Summa and Engler scored only five of the proposals and whether Summa and Engler breached confidentiality. Instead, Walinski said he would rather focus on the primary goal, which is to help the City Council make a decision about the liquor store.

A side discussion

While discussion about the matter unfolded online, James Gleason, one of the owners of the proposals that didn’t made the cut, came forward to reveal why he believed his family’s idea had been removed from consideration. The property was too far beyond the downtown area that City Council and city staff identified as the prime location for a new liquor store. Gleason argued that the council might not have been wise in eliminating his proposal because he offered the valuable commercial land across from the Target store for just $1. The information fueled a side debate between those who agreed with Gleason and those who suspected the motives behind his offer.

Have we learned?

I began reporting this story after attending an Economic Development Authority meeting during which the issue of the liquor store arose. I was shocked at how quickly suspicion seemed to grow among elected officials, members of city staff and Northfield residents.

I talked with people about what I observed. Some told me “Well, that’s just Northfield” or “Well, that’s just city government.” Some people pointed fingers at groups or individuals. Some blamed the infighting the City Council has experienced of late.

*Corrections indicated with a strike-through of the mistake and replacement text.

  • What does this latest development in the plan to build a new liquor store say about Northfield as a community?
  • Is there anything we can learn from these discussions?
  • How could what we learn help us in the future?
  • What is the most important question that has emerged from our discussions and have we answered it?

MNDOT installs a ‘soils cap’ at The Crossing

MNDOT at The Crossing MNDOT at The Crossing

The grading and clean-up at 2nd and Hwy 3 corner of The Crossing is being done by MNDOT.  Brian O’Connell, City of Northfield Community Development Director, had this blurb in last week’s Friday Memo:

The Community Development Director and the City Engineer met with representatives of the MnDOT, MPCA, Mendota Homes, and the City’s legal counsel on the project to review the status of the environmental clean up on the property still owned by MnDOT and the corresponding progress that is starting to occur on the sale of the MnDOT property to the City of Northfield.

MnDOT will be installing a “soils cap” on the property that MnDOT still owns on The Crossings site. This will result in MnDOT obtaining a No Further Action Letter from the MPCA which also leads to the activity of selling the land to the City. The soils cap will require further mitigation by Mendota Homes once building construction begins. Basically MnDOT is undertaking a minimal effort to resolve the environmental condition on the property they plan to sell and are imposing a deed restriction that will presumably effect the sale price of the property.

Brian submitted this report on The Crossing (PDF) to the Council last week.

FYI, the Wigley’s and Mendota Homes have settled the lawsuit. And no, I can’t talk about it.

Mathern on developing in today’s economy

Developer John Mathern talks economy from Bonnie Obremski on Vimeo.

John Mathern, CEO of Mendota Homes, met with me for about an hour two weeks ago shortly after First National Bank took ownership of one of Mendota’s downtown properties. In the video, Mathern references the The Crossing condominium project. The video is about one minute long.

Bank forecloses on Mendota property

A major corner property on Bridge Square in downtown Northfield will soon be back on the market and at least one developer is already showing some interest in buying.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Brett Reese, CEO of Northfield Automation and real estate developer, said on Tuesday. “Given the location, and what it means for Northfield, I do have an interest as a potential developer.”

The property at 19 and 25 Bridge Square houses the Community Resource Bank. Mendota Homes Inc. of Little Canada bought it in October 2005 for $1.25 million. John Mathern, president of Mendota Homes, received formal notice dated Sept. 17 that lender First National Bank would foreclose on the property.

The property has been appraised at $1.1 million, but a First National Bank representative said it could sell for less than that.

According to a notice published on Saturday in the Northfield News, Mathern owed $1,018,987 at the time of foreclosure. The original amount of the mortgage was $960,000, the notice read. The sale is scheduled for Oct. 21.

Mathern had once intended to raze the structures to make way for a mixed-use, four story building. He planned to fill his new Bridge Square buildings with small living units, retail and office space.

In September 2005, Mathern told a Northfield News reporter of his plans, “It’s really a show piece at that corner, but we knew it had to be. It only had one direction to go.”

Reese said he had also at one time considered buying the property to renovate it into a multi-use building. The Northfield native said he is seeing the recent slump in the housing market “bleeding into the commercial side.”

“It’s a tough market out there and it’s much harder to finance projects,” Reese said. “People are more cautious. I was talking to a contractor who said he used to build eight or 10 homes a year. This year, he just built one.”

Victor Summa, a member of the Economic Development Authority, said he was surprised at the news of the foreclosure. At the same time, he had believed the project may have been ambitious.

Ross Currier, former planning commissioner and current executive director of the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation said others shared that view as well, but Currier was hopeful a developer would still see the property’s lowered price as an opportunity.

“Perhaps at a lower sales price and with a lower-cost development plan, something could move forward quickly,” Currier said.

Mathern owns The Crossing condominiums off State Highway 3 and two nearby commercial properties. Financial constraints have plagued Mathern throughout the development of the the higher-end condominiums, and businesses have yet to fill much of his commercial property.

A spokesperson from Community Resource Bank said customers would not notice any change as a result of the building foreclosure. The bank has additional offices in Northfield, Cannon Falls and Roseville.

Update 10/7 I spoke with Mr. Mathern since posting this story and I want to be more specific about the information in the second to last paragraph of the story. Mr. Mathern owns a number of properties in the city and he would not divulge every detail about all his present and past investments. However, he does own The Crossing and the adjacent 8 units of commercial space. Businesses occupy four of those units and four units are vacant. Mr. Mathern once owned the “Q-block” commercial buildings across the street, but has since sold that property.

Also, Mr. Mathern said his plans to build a structure at the Community Resource Bank site would have attempted to preserve the front, concrete part of the existing building because of its historical value.

Mathern also clarified the term “foreclosure” in this circumstance by saying, “I gave the First National Bank a deed and it became their building in July. In addition to the deed, I also agreed to a voluntary foreclosure that allowed the bank to gain full legal control in two months. By cooperating with the bank, it avoided costly legal expenses for both parties and, as there was no immediate plan that could save the building from foreclosure, it was wise to do it voluntarily.”

Minnesota-grown flowers at cousin Jane’s Forget-Me-Not Florist

Jane Williams, co-owner of Forget-Me-Not Florist here in Northfield with her hubby Jim (right photo below), is my second cousin on my mother’s side… the Lauers of St. Paul, then Mendota Heights, then Rosemount while I was growing up in Eagan. (I went to elementary school in the late 50s/early 60s with Jane and her sibs at St. Peter’s in Mendota. My mother, Audre Wigley, taught 5th grade there and had many of the Lauer kids in her class over the years.)

Jane Williams, Griff Wigley Forget-Me-Not florist, Northfield Jim Williams, Jane Williams

minnesotagrownlogoI stopped by their Northfield florist shop (Water St. at 5th) yesterday to order some flowers (for my sweetie!) and to see how the the 5th St. construction was impacting their business. (Ouch on the latter.)

I’d planned to order flowers via their Northfield florists website (for delivery to Robbie’s hotel room in Salt Lake City) but Jane gave me a money-saving tip: browse the site to find what I wanted, then phone them with the order.

Jane said a large percentage of their flowers have always been supplied by Minnesota growers, part of the Minnesota Grown Program coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Banks foreclose on The Crossing; now the City should clean up the surrounding property

Today’s Nfld News has this front page story: Crossing development is in foreclosure.

City Administrator Al Roder confirmed Tuesday evening that he was notified late last week of the proceedings begun by the project developer’s creditor, Highland Bank… Roder said he wasn’t certain if the entire project is being foreclosed on. At least one other bank held a portion of Mendota Homes’ loan for the project.

Data request on The Crossing I got wind of the notification last Friday and filed a data request on Monday (left photo). Thus far, I don’t have the documentation but I did speak by phone to Community Development manager Brian O’Connell yesterday and he confirmed it.

I asked Brian if he knew the status of the Jimmy Johns restaurant that was scheduled to break ground the week of May 12th. He didn’t.

I suggested to him that now might be a good time for the City to step in and do the cleanup on the property surrounding the buildings there, both for the sake of the residents and businesses there, as well as for downtown. I took these photos this morning.

The Crossing The Crossing The Crossing The Crossing The Crossing 

The Crossing The Crossing The Crossing The Crossing The Crossing

The weeds are tall, construction debris is still there from April of 2007, and Xmas tree sale leftovers can still be found in the parking lot. (Full disclosure, again: we have money down on a condo there but are refusing to close. Mendota Homes is suing us and the case is now going to arbitration.)

Update 6/12 at 9:15am:  Here are PDFs of the photocopies of:

1. Letters from Highland Bank to John Mathern/Mendota Homes and to the City of Nfld.


2. Memo from Community Development Director Brian O’Connell to the City Council.


Criticisms of me

A person who I think I once moderated for violating our discussion guidelines has been trying to attach comments to my blog posts about Representative Journalism, criticizing me for my behavior and mistakes, and asserting that my participation in the RepJ project will be detrimental.

I’ve not allowed these new comments to be posted because I can’t verify who the person is. They don’t answer my email, in which I offer to talk to them by phone or meet in person. But I thought I’d post the criticisms here because there are elements of truth to them that others might be concerned about and it might help to have my responses all in one place.

Certainly Griff was upfront about the controversial and derogatory LG posts that he has had to remove? Like these two right here?

The URL/link they provided doesn’t work. I’m assuming they’re referring to comments that they made that I removed for violating our guidelines, but I’m not sure.

Also he told you about told [sic] the meetings with the Nfld News where they told him to stop plagarizing [sic] them or face lawsuit? Go ahead and call the Nfld News to confirm what i’ve said about their meetings with him. Plagarism? Is that what this “Representative Journalism” is all about? Or just those that you support?

When I was with NCO/, I did get a letter from then Northfield News Publisher Renee Huckle, asking me to stop linking to their articles that required a paid subscription to access. I wasn’t plagiarizing these articles but linking to them for online discussion purposes, like I do now.  I was also copying/pasting news headlines and teaser paragraphs from their website, and then linking to their news page as a way to encourage people to go to their site to read the full articles. But I was wrong not to ask their permission to do either of these, and of course, I stopped immediately.

About the times Griff has been forced to redact completely copied articels [sic] from because he copied them?

They’re referring to this blog post where I was trying to promote a youth-made video that Adam Gurno blogged about on I linked to Adam’s post but I didn’t get his permission to replicate the video in my post. I removed it and apologized to Adam both in an update to the blog post and in an attached comment.

About his lawsuits within the city?

I’m not suing anybody so I’m assuming he means Mendota Homes suing my wife and me for not closing on a condo at The Crossing.

I’m happy to answer questions and respond to any other criticisms from anyone related to what I do/have done here on Locally Grown.

Northfield News on The Crossing

The Crossing Northfield News reporter Suzy Rook wrote a story this week titled Crossing into a new phase: Development is behind schedule as red tape, housing market cause delays.

One of Northfield’s largest developments, The Crossing, is a project teetering on the edge.
Project developer Mendota Homes has struggled for months to sell its residential and commercial condos, it’s more than $30,000 behind on its property taxes and is considering modifying plans for a second residential structure in a soft housing market.

I’m not going to opinionate much here. My wife and I signed a purchase agreement on a condo in March, 2006, and have opted to not close. But since this development involves public policy and public money, others may want to discuss it.

Final Course Cafe to open now open closed in The Crossing Business Center

Kurt Larson of Larson’s Printing attached a comment yesterday afternoon in the Ole Store to reopen? blog post discussion, saying:

Just noticed a banner for a new eatery at Mendota Homes corner building. Anyone know what it is?

John Thomas follow with two comments:

I saw it this morning on my way out of town as well. I will stop by on my way back, and find out what it says.

The sign says: The Final Course Cafe, opening January 2008. Soups, Paninis, Salads, Tortes, Truffles, Coffees, Ice Creams – [I’ve edited that list slightly to coincide with the banner in the photo below – Griff]

Northern Letter blogger Bill Ostrem followed with:

The Final Course Cafe, at the Crossing, will be run (and owned?) by Dean and Rose Sorenmann. I know that Dean is an astute gourmand – some would say a foodie – so it’s likely to offer good fare.

Final Course Cafe Final Course Cafe banner Final Course Cafe 
So I snapped these photos today. Click to enlarge. Thanks, gents!

Update 12/16, 9:15 PM: The restaurant has a web site: Final Course Cafe.

Update 02/11: They opened last Monday.

From the LoGro Archives, Dec 1, 2007: Wondering about the Xmas trees for sale at The Crossing

Xmas trees for sale Ross and I noticed yesterday that someone’s preparing to sell Christmas trees on the empty lots at The Crossing. We’ve both chatted a bit with folks about this but haven’t been able to determine who’s selling the trees.

Some people commented that it’s good to see the empty lots being put to use, especially with something as visually pleasing as Christmas trees and antique tractors.

Others commented that if the vendor for these trees is not from the Northfield area, it undermines the sale of trees from local merchants such as Lansing Hardware, Just Food, etc. And since The Crossing is a development that’s getting Tax Increment Financing (TIF) via the City, this seems inappropriate.

I’m trying to blog this with a neutral-point-of-view, wikipedia style since all three of us have conflicts of interest regarding The Crossing. (I’m being sued by the developer, Ross used to work for the developer, and Tracy continues to sleep with my attorney, though it’s not clear what she’s hoping to gain from that.)

The Crossing gets some landscaping; Mendota Homes ponders market/student rental for second building

The Crossing landscaping The Crossing landscaping

Landscapers were spreading black dirt around The Crossing yesterday. Decorative bricks/blocks were also delivered.  The developer, Mendota Homes, has been under considerable pressure for several months from the NDDC, the City of Northfield, and new condo owners to improve the condition of the property. See the Sept. 26 blog post on the update on The Crossing for more details.

The Oct. 3 issue of the Northfield News had a story about the Oct. 1 City Council meeting titled Crossing update turns to quiz of mayor: Councilmen unclear about Lansing’s concern over project in which a change from condos to rental for the delayed second building was discussed:

Mendota Homes is expected to come back before councilors this fall to revise its plans. The developers appear to be leaning toward rental housing for the second building. In a letter from financing agent Piper Jaffray distributed at Monday’s meeting, President Pat O’Leary said his company understands the rental housing is to be “a mix of market rental and student rental.” Any changes would need to come back before councilors for approval.

The Oct. 6 issue of the Northfield News had an editorial titled Council should be proactive about content of Crossing:

During all these meetings, it appears the city hasn’t moved beyond the question of whether it’s going to be financially liable to how it can work with the developer to get something done. Part of the deal with the project is that any changes Mendota makes to The Crossing plan must be approved by the council. We think the council’s role should be far more proactive than that. Perhaps the council should tap into the expertise of the community to present creative and innovative ideas to Mathern for completing The Crossing, rather than waiting for Mendota Homes to reappear with something that may or may not fully serve the city.

The Crossing: an update

In an article in today’s Northfield News on tensions at City hall:

…Lansing is pressing for the council to discuss The Crossings [sic], a business and residential condominium project along the Cannon River. Lansing has asked about the city’s liability for the stalled project. Though city staffers this summer reviewed the project for councilors and stressed its financing agreement doesn’t jeopardize the city, Lansing, in recent weeks, has again asked for detailed information on the project. That request, Lansing said, was accurate, pointing out that an update on the project would soon come before council.

John Mathern
John Mathern, CEO of Mendota Homes, the developer of The Crossing, appeared on Wayne Eddy’s KYMN radio show a month ago.

This first hour primarily involves discussion of Mathern’s personal and professional background.

The second hour primarily involves discussion of The Crossing.

For more background:

Northfield News:

  • July 11: New plan for second Crossing building explained
    “Mendota Homes will ask city council to allow luxury apartments in the second of The Crossing’s two residential buildings. The request is designed to keep the project moving. Mendota Homes’ President John Mathern said Monday he plans to return to the city council later this month with a revised plan for the project’s second phase.”

Locally Grown:

Mendota Homes doesn’t provide updates on the news page of The Crossing, nor does it provide any photos of the development, only sketches. On the page for The Crossing on the Mendota Homes’ website, there are interior photos of the temporary model that was constructed on the SW corner of Hwy 3 and 2nd St. (since sold), plus two photos of the construction of the residential condo building.

I walked around the exterior of the property yesterday and took these 42 photos. See the album or the slideshow below.

(Full disclosure: my wife and I signed a purchase agreement on a condo in March, 2006, but thus far, have opted to not close.)

Construction trailer continues to welcome downtown visitors

IMG_3758.JPGThis construction trailer has been sitting unused for at least six months on the old Byzantine property at the corner of 2nd St. and Hwy 3. The people who work at SMSQ can’t be happy but maybe they’re using it for remote office space for Steve Wilmot.

After hours of investigative work, I’ve determined that it’s highly likely the trailer is owned by Gephart Electric. The property is owned by John Mathern, Mendota Homes, and he has not revealed his intentions for the property after he declined to participate with the NDDC in the Building for Creative Professionals, reported back in May by the Nfld News. The empty lot is already an eyesore, as the drought and overflow parking has taken a toll on the grass. What would it take to get the trailer removed by DJJD?

I am NOT a Reporter

MendotaHomesAtCouncil.jpgGriff Wigley found out that I was going to the City Council meeting and he asked me to bring my camera and take a picture. I guess it was like getting a note from my doctor or something.

Pictured at left is John Mathern, giving an update on the Crossing to the Council. He said he was there to discuss “minor changes” in the project, that 50% of the units in the first building are sold, that the second building will be “luxury rental” units, and that he’d be back before the Council with final plans in July, August or September. When asked for more specifics on the units sold, he said that they had “20-some non-contingent purchase agreements” and that “the closings would occur in August, September and October”. When asked about the completion date for the Riverwalk work, he said that it was tied to the second building. So, I guess that means August, September or October.

Other agenda items included the City’s proposed new Stormwater Management Plan. Not many people are interested in this topic but they should be. The plan will be gradually introduced to the public through a series of Open Houses. The Council also approved letting bids on the landscaping project for the corner of Highway 3 and 3rd Street. This was the historic entrance to downtown and hopefully the planned work will contribute to traffic calming and transportation safety at that crucial location in our community.

Then they got to my topic, “Items related to Fargaze Meadows Second Addition”. There were two recommendations forwarded from the Planning Commission on this project. As Chair of the Planning Commission, I thought I would follow-up on the topic. After hearing people in that neighborhood share their concerns, including a half dozen in voice and a half dozen in presence at the most recent meeting, it was clear to the Commission that the people wanted safer streets, sidewalks on both sides of the road, and connected bike paths. It was clear that several Council members don’t really care for sidewalks. Comments were made that sidewalks were not a good use of money, that they were unnecessary for pedestrian safety, and that they were bad for the environment. There was much discussion about “what was the Planning Commission thinking?” Although I was standing in the back of the room, jumping up and down and waving my hand to explain, I must have been invisible. Perhaps I’d inadvertently slipped on Harry Potter’s magic cloak in anticipation of the big event next Friday night. At any rate, the Council voted, narrowly, to support the Commission’s recommendation. I’ve got news for you guys, you are going to be seeing more and more recommendations with two sides of walkways, safer street designs, and connected bike trails.

The Council then spent over an hour discussing changing the requirments for a concept plan for an annexation request. Two property owners in Bridgewater Township [Oops, Greenvale Township] have requested that Northfield annex 452 acres into the city. The parcels are located a bit northwest of the hospital and the EDA has been looking at creating a third business park in that location. A number of people in the audience were quite surprised by this topic. Several of the Council members had a few questions too. The Council voted to reduce the concept plan requirements for the land in this particular annexation process.

It was shortly after 9 pm at this point. There were two more topics, including the proposed Rental Ordinance. There were 60 people in the Council Chambers, 20 more watching by television monitor in the hallway, and, by my estimate, another 20 that were being contacted by cell phone as the topic approached. That’s 100 people, each speaking for their allocated 2 minutes. You do the math; I went home.

As I said, I am not a reporter. If you want to know about the Rental Ordinance discussion, ask Suzy Rook.

Podcast: Guest Brian O’Connell, Northfield Community Development Director

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Northfield Community Development Director Brian O’Connell joined us in our new studio home at KYMN on Wednesday.

In addition to our usual frivolity at the beginning of the show, we discussed three topics:

  • the proposed rental ordinance
  • The Crossing
  • annexation.

Click play to listen. 30 minutes.

Our show, Locally Grown, airs Wednesdays at 5:30 PM on KYMN 1080 AM. You can also subscribe to the podcast feed, or subscribe with iTunes. We seek your comments and suggestions. Attach a comment to this blog post or use the Contact Us page to send us email. See the show archives for audio of other episodes.

Should the City or Mendota Homes clean up the undeveloped parts of The Crossing?

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The Riverfront Development site was an eyesore for 15 or more years as the photos of the old Kump lumber yard above attest.

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Now it’s looking waaaaaay better as the first condo building and the first office/retail building at The Crossing are finished and have gotten landscaping around them.

But the rest of the development is looking pretty scruffy, now two months since the first owners moved in. See this slideshow of photos I took last week.

Weeds, construction debris and equipment, a big blue dumpster, and large tracts of bare dirt that make for lots of dust when the wind blows mar the rest of the development. It seems like it wouldn’t take much to clean things up, put down some black dirt and seed it with cheap prairie grass. Should Mendota Homes do it? Should the City of Northfield help? (There’s a lot of TIF money in this project.) Should the City encourage MH to do it?

Bruce Morlan’s got a related blog post on this issue.

Strib story on Mendota Homes, The Crossing, and the NDDC

At 10:45 am today, the StarTribune published this story on their website, to be in tomorrow’s South Section:

Snags delay development of ‘gateway’ to downtown Northfield By Sarah Lemagie
A change in plans, a slower housing market and other complications have delayed plans for artists’ housing, condos and commercial developments.

…the ongoing cooldown in the housing market, particularly for condos, has prompted Mendota Homes to consider new alternatives for the second residential building. The developer had considered putting in a hotel instead of condos, but that idea “is off the table,” said Erin Mathern, development director with Mendota Homes. “I think that luxury rental is probably at the top of our list for that second building,” she said.

For the NDDC, not having land may mean a significant setback for the $6.5 million artists’ building envisioned at the southeast corner of the intersection. Without a site, the group can’t apply for aid that would allow private investors to help pay for construction in return for tax credits. The state’s application deadline for the program is June 19.

The Crossing: stymied, struggling, or spinning?

IMG_0793_1000.jpgI was surprised when I read the article in this week’s Northfield News titled MnDOT holds up Crossing: Right-of-way sale delays Hwy 3 project. (This particular story does NOT require a subscription/login to read.)

(Full disclosure/shameless self-promotion: my wife and I have money down on a condo there. Open house this weekend! Finder’s Fee! Operators are standing by. Not available in stores!)

My understanding was that, like nearly all new condo and mixed-use developments in the state, The Crossing is struggling. (See this Strib article from last week as an example of the problems with mixed-use developments.) Mendota Homes has sold or have commitments on 18-20 of the condo units. They’ve sold 2 of the retail condos. They’ve been shopping the idea of a hotel for the development instead of constructing the second 55-unit condo building. Northfield News reporter Suzanne Rook writes:

Mendota Homes, developers of the 4.64-acre property at the corner of Second Street and Minnesota Highway 3, can’t begin the second phase of its multi-million dollar construction project until the Minnesota Department of Transportation sells the company a couple of small parcels near the center of the development. The property was purchased by MnDOT a few years ago as part of the Highway 3 widening. That project wrapped up last fall, about the time The Crossing’s Phase II was to begin. Northfield’s Community Development Director Brian O’Connell said the city’s well aware of Mendota’s predicament and has agreed to press MnDOT into selling its excess right-of-way. Mendota, O’Connell said, “can’t move forward with the second phase until they get the land.”

I don’t object to Mendota Homes trying to put a positive spin on a sluggish development. (Here’s a May 1 press release titled Quaint college town south of Minneapolis prides itself on cows, colleges, contentment, and condos on the Dolan Media Newswire that really puts the development in glowing terms.) I’d do the same. And as a future condo owner, I have a stake in the development flourishing as soon as possible.

But it seems to me that the Northfield News has not done its job here, that they’ve just taken the company’s characterization of their situation at face value and turned it into a news story without digging deeper. Or am I off-base?

The Crossing opens for Parade of Homes tours

The Parade of Homes began this weekend and The Crossing, the new mixed-use development on the northwest edge of downtown, now has two models in The Edgewater (residential condo building) open for tours, Thursdays-Sundays, noon to 6. Click photos to enlarge.

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We visited yesterday (we’ve already purchased a unit) to take a few photos, visit the Mendota Homes folks on duty, and smell the new paint.

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One model is furnished, the other, partially.

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The community room (left) is open as well, providing a view of downtown Northfield, the Cannon River, and Carleton College. The model unit across the street (right) is now closed and has apparently been purchased by an insurance agency.

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