Plasma center could delay WaHu apartments

If a rezoning request for CSL Plasma is denied, WaHu apartments could be delayed.


A city bus pulls away from CSL Plasma Center on Saturday afternoon, leaving behind about a dozen donors who hustle away from the stop and into the building, hoping for a good spot in line. Zachary Lorenz squeezes past them as he heads outside for a smoke.

Lorenz, 19, began donating plasma two months ago to supplement his welfare checks. He takes two buses from his home in north Minneapolis to donate twice per week.

As the only donation center in Minneapolis, the 30-year-old CSL Plasma Center on Washington Avenue brings in 400 to 600 donations per day from a diverse group of donors.

The center has been looking to relocate for some time, but the development of the 333-unit WaHu student housing project on the center’s site has forced the issue.

WaHu developer CPM has taken steps to help move the center to a different building a block away, but the neighborhood association and city planning department have opposed the move.

The case will go before the City Council’s planning commission Monday. If a new location can’t be set, CPM president Daniel Oberpriller said the center could remain in its current location until its lease expires in August 2014, delaying WaHu’s construction and projected fall 2014 opening date.

City, neighborhood oppose rezoning

CSL — which pays people for plasma donations — is hoping to move to a vacant industrial site next to nearby campus apartment building University Village. The new center would add more space and additional beds for donors.

“The building that they’re in right now is not adequate,” Oberpriller said. “They’ve had the same design since 1970. It’s very inefficient; it’s not conducive to serving their clients.”

In order to relocate, the new space would have to be rezoned from a light industrial site to a C4, “general commercial” district. The Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association and the Minneapolis planning office oppose the rezoning, saying it goes against long-term plans for the area.

C4 is among the least prevalent zoning types in the city, according to Minneapolis planner Kimberly Holien. It allows for the widest range of commercial uses, including those not allowed by other commercial zoning districts. Pawnshops, firearm stores, sex shops and exterminators all fall under this zoning.

A staff report filed by the Minneapolis planning office for Monday’s hearing opposed the rezoning and the move, saying both are in violation of city policy and not in the public interest.

The proposed renovation of the site includes two additional retail spaces. Dick Gilyard, planning committee chair for PPERRIA, said this general commercial zoning and the types of business it could invite would be inappropriate, especially for a site on Minneapolis’s Grand Rounds.

“That’s not the kind of commercial, institutional activity we’re trying to promote here,” he said.

Oberpriller said he is working with the property owner to amend the building’s deed, barring adult stores, pawnshops and other such businesses from opening there.

He said although the planning division opposes the move, the city has an interest in working with the center to relocate and get WaHu off the ground.

“It seems silly to slow down an $85 million development that produces $2 million in tax income,” Oberpriller said.

‘Clean up the neighborhood’

The Caspian Bistro has been two doors down from the plasma center for decades. The bus stop closest to the center sits outside the bistro’s entrance.

“It’s not easy,” owner Hossein Azhakh said. “The idea of what they do is great, but the way they do it and the clientele they invite … are not helping the neighborhood.”

Azhakh said he frequently cleans up litter, cigarette butts and bloody bandages left outside of his business. Gilyard said other businesses have voiced similar complaints.

Azhakh said he hopes relocating the center will reduce crime in the neighborhood.

“Anything we can do to improve the neighborhood, we’re all for it,” Azhakh said. “If the plasma center is one of the causes [of crime], then let’s eliminate the plasma center and this crime and clean up the neighborhood.”

A community

On the wall of the plasma center, near the line for donors, there’s a bulletin board decorated like the ones found in elementary classrooms.

Construction paper and hand-cut letters advertise a special for donors, allowing them to move to the front of the line on their birthday.

Those who frequent the plasma center say it has become a community institution over its 30 years.

Peter Berry rides his bike to the center twice per week to donate, making a little more than $200 per month.

“It’s not bad,” he said. “It’s extra income — whatever you can take in this economy.”

On Saturday, Berry gave his 95th donation of the year. He said he hopes to reach 100 donations, which will earn him a number of rewards from the center, like gift cards or express passes for the line.

Riley Nornes, a University of Minnesota sophomore who earns extra money by donating at the center, said he occasionally chats with other students at the center but sees much more camaraderie between older, non-student donors.

“There is a certain idea of community,” he said. “A lot of them will talk to each other if they recognize each other and kind of catch up.”

‘For the people’

Although he has another job, Drew Shurson, a St. Catherine University student, said he relies on the money he makes donating plasma every week.

“It helps out with all the little bills,” he said. “Right now for me it’s pretty essential.”

Shurson relies on public transit to get him to the center and said he wouldn’t be able to donate as often if the center wasn’t on a bus line.

Public transit is at the forefront of the plasma center discussions. Those in favor of the move say transit keeps the center successful, but others say the new light-rail line near the center means the area isn’t a good fit for the center anymore.

The addition of the stadium and Central Corridor light-rail line have turned the area into an activity center, city planner Holien said. The site where the center sits now comes with a number of overlapping plans for growth, none of which are compatible with the zoning required for the center.

“We can’t measure the C4 zoning based on this use alone, it’s in general the C4 zoning district,” Holien said. “So that’s the first question that needs to be answered.”

CPM President Oberpriller said the addition of the light rail makes a plasma center a more natural fit for the neighborhood.

“The Central Corridor is supposed to be for the people,” he said. “It connects the two cities. This is a good location, I would argue, for this use, seeing that most of the [donors] need mass transit.”

Gilyard said PPERRIA sees the industrial area transforming into a research park near dense urban housing.

“The public has got more invested in this area than anywhere else in the metropolitan area when you count the University and the light rail,” Gilyard said. “When you’re looking at development, you ought to be looking at what’s the highest possible return on the public’s investment.”