By Starrla Cray
LORETTO, MN A peaceful plaza with an outdoor drinking fountain and railroad-themed landscaping are just a hint of what could be in store for Loretto’s downtown.
“Essentially, this is a continuation of redevelopment efforts that started a long time ago,” Redevelopment Authority Committee (RAC) chair Clark Lohr said.
The effort began with the downtown master plan in 1992.
Several projects have been completed since then, and the current focus includes five parcels along the west side of Hennepin County Road 19 (Medina Street North) and north of West Railway Street.
“Our primary goal right now is to attract developer interest,” Lohr said.
Professional consulting firm MFRA created a concept for the area that features a series of two- and three-story buildings.
A parking lot on the corner of Co. Rd. 19 and St. Peter Street would have sidewalk access behind the new buildings, and the corner of Co. Rd. 19 and Railway Street would have a plaza area.
“This would be a way to bring in new tax dollars, new jobs, and services to directly benefit the residents,” Lohr said.
Through its market analysis of Loretto, MFRA determined that the city needs more parking and rental housing.
This proposed development would alleviate that problem, with about 60 parking spaces and 12 second-floor apartments.
“The lower level would be a mix of retail and office space,” Lohr said.
According to the market study results, service and retail-oriented businesses (such as boutiques, dental/medical clinics, and sporting goods stores) would be a good fit for the area.
Right now, the five lots in the plan include two unoccupied buildings and three vacant parcels. One of the empty spots had been an apartment complex that was razed by fire in 2009, and one building is being used temporarily as a motorcycle shop.
“At this time, the city has no control over these properties,” Lohr said. “They’re all privately owned.”
As of March 2011, the total appraised value of all five properties was determined to be $392,000. Loretto’s RAC has begun conversations with the property owners, in hopes of purchasing the land.
“They’re all willing to negotiate,” Lohr said. “Some are more eager than others.”
In 2010, Loretto was awarded a pre-development grant for $36,440 from the Metropolitan Council’s Livable Communities Demonstration Account (LCDA). The city is expected to contribute $9,110, for a total package of $45,550.
The city council has already supplied half ($4,555) of the required matching funds. The other 50 percent is in the preliminary budget for 2012.
The funds are being utilized for retail appraisal, land planning, open houses, a market study, stormwater feasibility analysis, soil testing, and more.
Eventually, Loretto hopes to replat the five lots, and sell them below market rate as one cohesive development.
“Next year will be the big year for marketing this project,” Lohr said, adding that development most likely wouldn’t start until 2013 or 2014.