Mixed feelings surface with new apartments

Max Rust

The face of Seven Corners has been lifted. The West Bank neighborhood is undergoing changes that will alter the makeup of businesses and population in the area.
And depending on who you talk to, the changes are for better, or for worse.
GrandMarc at Seven Corners, a new student housing project on Washington Avenue South, will soon introduce a large graduate-student population and street-level retail shops.
Since early August, construction crews demolished a coffee shop, a radiator shop, an apartment building, a grocery store and a restaurant to make way for a student housing development that some complain is overpriced and might shift the area’s commercial development more toward students.
GrandMarc, an Atlanta-based developer is well on its way to erecting its five-story complex, which will include 370 bedrooms in 183 units with lavish amenities, a 24-hour business center, a health club, a concierge and retail businesses on the ground floor. Each bedroom will have its own bathroom and in some instances, its own den. The apartment building will offer one-, two- and four-bedroom apartments, in addition to studio units.
GrandMarc officials project the average net rent per bedroom will be $537. The development is scheduled to open in August.
The developers commenced construction after purchasing a 63-space parking lot from the University for $314,500 in March.
University officials were supportive of the sale. In a letter to the Board of Regents last spring, they wrote that the new development would be a good recruiting tool for the University.
GrandMarc made a verbal agreement with the University to offer the apartments to graduate students first.
Greg Almquist, GrandMarc president, said the company will promote the apartments on a Web site and by speaking with students at functions like the Law School orientation, which Almquist attended last month.
Differing views
Though several area business owners and residents also have positive attitudes about the development, not everyone at Seven Corners is welcoming GrandMarc.
Doreen Bower, an area resident and University graduate student, said she thinks GrandMarc’s rents are outrageously high for students.
Bower also said the development could create an effect where other building owners sell existing Seven Corners property in hopes of making money from the student market.
“You could argue that as a resident it’s really no concern of mine that business and law students pay buckets of money, but as a citizen I see it as a kind of trend that campuses don’t need,” Bower said. “To me it’s big business entering a market that really doesn’t need it.”
Bower and other concerned residents are also wary of the added parking needs and traffic the development is sure to bring to the area.
Almquist said that while traffic might increase some, GrandMarc developers are hoping students will use parking spaces as storage areas and only use their cars on the weekends.
Ed Hodder, a former University student who now lives in the Seven Corners area, wrote letters to University officials and to the City Council addressing his concerns about affordable housing.
He said it seemed like the University was endorsing a project designed to cater to affluent students.
“The developers were saying that this is a marketing project that is unique,” Hodder said. “We were saying, ‘Does that fit with the University’s mission?'”
The University has since adopted a plan to involve area community members in the planning of construction projects related to the University.
Seven Corners-area resident Tom Youngblood said he feels good about the addition to the area, and said he appreciated GrandMarc’s willingness to listen to the community’s input on how the building should fit into the community.
GrandMarc’s first proposal was a 16-story building, but that was scaled back to a five-story one after community members voiced concerns. Developers then presented a design plan for a five-story building to the neighborhood.
Youngblood said he helped alter the plans.
“The first drawings they brought to us of the new five-story version looked like it had been sucked straight out of Edina,” Youngblood said. “It was hideous.”
After some suggestions, Youngblood said GrandMarc came back with drawings “quite sensitive” to the area.
The project is the first of its kind for GrandMarc. Before beginning GrandMarc, Almquist worked for Lincoln Properties, which is based in Dallas. Lincoln Properties is one of the largest developers and managers of luxury apartments in the country, including some gated communities.
Almquist called GrandMarc at Seven Corners a “flagship” for the company.
“The company is set up strictly to develop student-living environments that maximize learning,” he said.
GrandMarc’s plans involve creating retail shops on the first floor of the building. No tenants have been signed yet, but Almquist said the company is looking at a deli and grocery store combination, a coffee shop and what Almquist described as “sort of a combination of an OfficeMax, a Kinko’s and a Mailboxes Etc.”
Almquist said the company is trying to find local businesses for the retail space, but he added that it might be hard to find a local operator who could offer something like the business center.
The West Bank has a tradition of discouraging chain businesses. However, a Kinko’s used to be located at Seven Corners.
Almquist said that in discussions with neighbors, many people responded positively about a possible return of the copy store.
Potential for new retail
GrandMarc might not be the only new commercial development coming to Seven Corners.
The owner of the building on the southeast corner of the Washington and Cedar avenues — which used to house the Up North Bar — said a new business might move in there at some time.
“There are some people interested in locating a business with me, but there’s no contract or agreement,” Jon Rimarcik said.
One interested business is Pawn America, a chain of licensed pawnbroking stores. A pawnbroker lends money on personal property left as security. If a person does not claim the property after a certain time, the pawnbroker puts the item up for sale.
Brad Rixmann, Pawn America’s chief executive officer, said he is looking at several potential sites in Minneapolis, including the one at Seven Corners.
However, a pawnbroker might have trouble moving to that spot since another pawnbroker — Gardner Pawnbrokers and Loans — is located down the street. The city of Minneapolis requires that pawnbrokers be located at least 1,000 feet from other pawnbrokers, currency exchanges and second-hand stores, with some exceptions.
But Ansel Gardner of Garner Pawnbrokers and Loans said he welcomes any new businesses to the area.
“I’d rather see that than a bar and have puke that I find in front of my store,” he said.

Max Rust covers the community and welcomes comments at [email protected]