St. Louis Park City Council approves The Elmwood

A rendering shows the design for The Elmwood. (Submitted art) A rendering shows the design for The Elmwood. (Submitted art) A rendering shows the design for The Elmwood. (Submitted art)
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A rendering shows the design for The Elmwood. (Submitted art)

A six-story redevelopment project that would replace the St. Louis Park American Legion and the 36th Street Business Center has received enough council votes to proceed.

The St. Louis Park City Council voted 5-2 at a March 6 meeting to approve the project, which includes 85 residential units. Twenty percent of the units will be considered affordable to families making 60 percent of the area median income, according to a city staff report.

The developer, 36th Street LLC, plans to demolish the building at 5605 W. 36th St. containing the business center and the American Legion. The service club is considering relocating to a section of the Paul Revere Masonic Center, 6509 Walker St.

In the new building, 63 percent of the units would contain two bedrooms and many of the one-bedroom and two-bedroom units would contain dens.

The units would be restricted to residents age 55 or older, according to a city staff report. The building would include resident amenities like a yoga room, an arts and craft room, a party room, a club room and a library business center.

The first floor would contain less than 5,000 square feet of commercial space.

Opponents of the plan on the council criticized what they saw as a lack of commercial space in the building.

“The greatest concern I have for this building is we really don’t have commercial on the first floor,” Councilmember Thom Miller said. “We have amenities on the first floor and a leasing office on the first floor. I understand it could qualify as commercial, but it’s not really providing a value to the community.”

Councilmember Gregg Lindberg said he understood the project might qualify technically as a mixed-use project, but he said he is also concerned about a lack of commercial space.

“This area is going to redevelop,” Lindberg said. “It just is. I feel it has to be the right redevelopment.”

Lindberg said he has a strong desire to see the addition of affordable senior housing in St. Louis Park, but he said that desire has to be balanced with what people would like in a redevelopment and council concerns.

Miller said the building’s design looks good, but he did not believe it met a city vision for the area from a pedestrian perspective. He pointed to wide setbacks for other buildings in the area.

Councilmember Sue Sanger said she preferred an earlier five-story version of the design to the six-story project presented at the March 6 meeting.

The six-story design would stand about 10 feet higher than the Hoigaard Village building across West 36th Street. The developer provided the taller building design after some council members expressed a desire for more affordable units during a council work session.

Despite her reservations, Sanger said she liked the number of large units in the project.

“I’ve come around to saying, you know, I think I can support this project at the six-story level because that is the style of development that we unfortunately haven’t seen enough of,” she said, referring to the number of two-bedroom units and units with dens.

The developer plans to ask the council for tax-increment financing, a mechanism that returns new taxes generated by a development to the developer to pay for site acquisition, infrastructure and other costs. After a period, taxing jurisdictions keep the full value of taxes generated by the project.

The project will include a two-level underground parking garage with space for 162 cars along with a small surface lot with 17 stalls.

Michael Margulies, the project manager for the development, said the developer added a floor to the building and another level of parking underneath to accommodate the desire of some council members to add more affordable units.

“We are somewhat over-parked, but it did allow us to add some amenities there,” Margulies said.

He said the number of affordable units challenges the project economically.

“It will be difficult to do this project without the TIF subsidy,” Margulies said.

Without tax-increment financing, the project might have to charge higher rents for the other units, he said.

“That’s not what the developer is interested in doing because he’s trying to appeal to seniors who are looking for a specific market band that is not high-income, high-rent luxury units,” Margulies said.

The market-rate apartments would cost about $1,200 per month for the smallest one-bedroom size, he said. The largest two-bedroom, market-rate units would rent in the range of $1,700 to 1,800 per month.

The units designed as affordable would rent for about $975 for a one-bedroom unit and about $1,000 for a two-bedroom unit, he said.

Councilmember Anne Mavity supported the project’s goals.

“We have an aging population in St. Louis Park and a lot of folks who want to stay in this community, and they don’t have a lot of housing product to access that,” Mavity said. “I think this definitely does fill a gap. Frankly, I think we need a lot more housing targeted to seniors in our community, where they can move out off their homes and stay in the Park.”

Luxury units have dominated redevelopment in the area in the last decade, Councilmember Tim Brausen said. The project is a way to “get some affordable housing in there,” he said.

He indicated support for tax-increment financing for the project.

“I think it’s a worthwhile investment of our city resources, and I certainly support it,” Brausen said.

Mayor Jake Spano said he would like to see more commercial space on the ground floor, but he appreciated the project’s inclusion of affordable units.

“I think the opportunity is far too good for us to pass this up,” Spano said. “Not everything we get is going to be perfect. I think this checks enough of the ‘good’ boxes.”

The council will discuss a tax-increment financing request for the project at a study session Monday, March 27.

The March 6 approvals for the project require the developer to pay $127,500 in park dedication fees and $19,125 in trail dedication fees.

Contact Seth Rowe at [email protected]