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UPDATED: City Place plans clear key panel, set for fall construction

Efforts to redevelop the former State Farm campus headquarters received a key vote Monday night when the Woodbury Planning Commission unanimously approved a rezoning plan to revive the 100-acre site.

Florida-based real estate developers Elion Partners, along with general contractor Kraus Anderson, officially submitted a rezoning and conditional-use permit application to the Woodbury citizen-appointed panel this week.

The developers have been working with city planners to tweak and finalize plans over the past 18 months.

Plans call for keeping the existing 400,000 square-foot office building that State Farm vacated in 2006 and adding a grocery-store anchored retail area, a hotel site, restaurants and more office space.

The commission approved rezoning the site from its current office park status to a mixed-use development that allows 30 percent retail.

Public spaces integrated within the site plans are intended to entice future office building tenants, City Planner Eric Searles said, as he explained where a plaza, trails and a public park will be located.

A plaza would service employees of the corporate offices, but also become a place to incorporate public programming like outdoor concerts, farmers markets and cooking demonstrations, he added.

“Think of it as an urban environment within the City Place development area,” Searles said. “To the east will be a softer feel, not really as hard-scaped.”

Developers also propose to incorporate a trail network that would lead to a public park and go all the way east to the Woodbury Lakes shopping mall.

Brick or stone pavers would make up the plaza that would link to outdoor eateries and sidewalks or trails for an added walkability feature, which is different from the existing restricted access that State Farm had in place.

“It’s designed as an amenity to the public so they come to the site,” Searles said.

The former State Farm corporate headquarters opened in 1994 and moved to Lincoln, Neb., in 2006. The building has sat empty since then while efforts to bring in new users who would comply with the city’s zoning requirements continued.

The site is zoned “places to work.” The Planning Commission vote to change zoning to “Gateway” keeps the existing three-level office building in place, while integrating retail.

The city’s goal has been to create a vibrant space so it can be leased with high quality places to work, Searles said, with amenities to create an urban environment.

It was acknowledged that zoning changes would be necessary to achieve that goal and promote reinvestment without compromising the city’s long-term plans, he added.

“The City Place proposal is consistent with both the current and the proposed economic development strategic plan,” Searles said.

Planning Commission members didn’t have major concerns or objections to the plans Monday, but traffic congestion was a topic of discussion.

Commissioner Irfan Ali wondered if upgrades to the Interstate 94 stretch between I-494 and Woodbury Drive are anywhere in the picture.

The already congested corridor is expected to see even more traffic when City Place offices open up and grow with employees and visitors.

“It’s a mess,” Ali said, adding, “This might become a bit too much with Cabela’s coming in.”

The city has on several occasions requested that Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) focus on transportation expansion rather than on transit funding solely, Searles said.

Development needs to happen before any changes could take place, he added, and it doesn’t make sense to delay the project until transportation improvements occur.

“Many times MnDOT is reactive and needs to have a failure before improving something,” Searles said.

However, internal road improvements will soon begin on Radio Drive, Hudson Road and Commons Drive.

A traffic study determined an additional southbound lane on Radio Drive would be necessary to handle more trips to City Place.

Additional access points from Commons Drive, Hudson Road and Spring Hill Drive, where a roundabout is proposed, are also part of the plans.

Developers expect to break ground on the site shortly after Woodbury City Council holds a public hearing on the matter Aug. 6.

If given final approval, construction on the multi-phase development will begin with phase one this fall, which consists of the hotel, grocery store and retail building.

The retail building is expected to open next spring followed by the grocery store.

“It is a large site,” Searles said. “Sometimes the site plans on the screens don’t give it justice.”

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.