Muir, Doran synonymous with Woodbury's retail growth
Woodbury almost had its own enclosed mall and the jewel of Minnesota retail — a Dayton's department store.
Those plans were made decades ago, when retail business was scarce but developers saw opportunity in the budding suburb.
Eventually, the ambitious plan for an enclosed mall and Dayton's gave way to the city's first Target store and surrounding retail complex: Woodbury Village.
The story behind that project is quaint by modern commercial development standards.
Twin Cities developer Kelly Doran said his former partner, Robert Muir, bought land in the early 1970s for a mall on the site of what is now Woodbury Village along Valley Creek Road between Woodlane and Bielenberg drives. Muir, who led Robert Muir Co., was working with an Ohio development company, but then was approached by the Dayton-Hudson Corp. They wanted in, Doran said, and offered to build a Dayton's store on the property.
In 1990, Muir went to Dayton-Hudson Corps. because they had not yet built on the site.
"They had totally forgotten about it," Doran said of the Dayton's store pledge two decades earlier.
As a compromise, they dropped the Dayton's plan and offered to build a Target instead.
Target was followed by Barnes and Noble, Ciatti's restaurant, Burger Brothers sporting goods store and others at the early Woodbury Village.
That project expanded to subsequent phases and later to another large project in Woodbury: Tamarack Village.
Doran said Muir, who died earlier this year, saw opportunity in Woodbury decades ago when he bought the land for what would become Woodbury Village. Minor retail existed already in the area, and it was near major highways and Valley Creek Road.
"The fundamentals were all there," Doran said.
Doran joined Muir, a multi-state developer, in business in Woodbury Village's early days. Together he said they expanded the development to include a movie theater, a Best Buy, Frank's Nursery and other smaller retailers.
Then they caught wind of another opportunity.
A development group owned land west of Radio Drive and south of Interstate 94, but Doran said the group narrowed and narrowed. The land then changed hands at least twice before another group was looking to unload it.
"We met with them on a Friday and we agreed to a purchase price and signed a purchase agreement the following week, and we closed two weeks later," Doran said of the 96 acres that would become Tamarack Village.
They had big ideas. They traveled the country looking at large retail projects.
"We wanted to build a big, open-air center but we wanted to have some uniqueness to it," Doran said.
An early design plan for Tamarack Village called for a different layout, with the road swooping to the south toward Tamarack Road, but the city did not want that design due to uncertainty about reconstruction of Tamarack Road, Doran said.
So they pitched the idea of a retail development built around a traffic circle.
"We had a hard time with the city engineering department because they didn't understand traffic circles," Doran said.
There also was skepticism about another part of the plan: what to do with the center of the development, within the traffic circle. The original concept called for two restaurants and a pond that would offer ice skating in the winter.
"It was an early idea," he said, that gave way to the more conventional retail layout present there today.
Mervyn's signed on as an initial department store tenant. Galyan's sporting goods store also committed. Then Cub Foods and Home Depot got onboard.
"I negotiated every lease in that shopping center," Doran said.
Doran, who leads Doran Companies, and Muir also redeveloped Woodbury Commons, the old factory outlet mall on Woodbury Drive.
"We bought it and we tore down about half of it," Doran recalled. They sold some of the land to Wal-Mart, and redeveloped the remaining retail space. They later sold that.
Woodbury continues to attract large-scale retail and mixed-used development projects. The latest is CityPlace, on the east side of Radio Drive, across from Tamarack Village.
Doran said the more the retail, the better.
"We think that's a great addition to the market," he said. "That didn't hurt us."
While Doran acknowledged the retail landscape has changed — a lot of national tenants don't care if they're in a shopping center anymore, and the internet has changed how people shop — he is upbeat about its future.
"Concepts come and go, but things evolve," he continued. "But I think retail is going to survive."