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Unanimous vote brings City Place vision to life

City Place is even closer to reality now that Woodbury City Council unanimously approved plans for the 100-acre mixed-use development site.

The council’s vote was the final step in the public process before developers could finalize purchasing the property from the previous occupant, State Farm Insurance.

“This is an exciting night to see this redevelopment,” Council Member Paul Rebholz said Wednesday. “We’re all certainly thrilled to be talking about this.”

The council OK’d a rezoning plan that incorporates retail on 30 percent of the site, which was previously zoned for office use only.

Filling the site, vacated in 2006 after State Farm moved its corporate offices out of state, has been a prominent issue among city and Washington County officials for eight years.

Its ideal location, just south of Interstate 94 and east of Radio Drive, has attracted new ideas in the past but nothing that satisfied the city’s future goals and ordinances.

When Florida based-Elion Partners came along more than a year ago, the city saw the company’s vision would achieve the goal of keeping the 400,000 square-foot office building intact while incorporating amenities that make the site more of a public attraction.

“It was acknowledged that zoning flexibility would be needed to deliver these complementary uses and amenities,” Community Development Director Dwight Picha said.

Plans will keep the existing building in place and add a grocery store, a 115-unit hotel, restaurants, multi-tenant retail buildings, a public plaza and a pedestrian trail network.

“This is a most important step in realizing the ‘work-play-live’ concept behind the development plan of City Place,” said Matt Alexander, Kraus-Anderson’s director of real estate development, who’s partnering with Elion to rebuild the site.

Kraus-Anderson expects to break ground this fall with the grocery store and retail building making up the first phase of construction.

The entire site is expected to be finished within three to four years.

Developers are also optimistic about potential users of the offices, now that a site plan and conditional-use permit have been approved to incorporate all the amenities.

“We look forward to companies seizing the opportunity to make City Place their home and to house their employees in this forward-thinking environment,” Shlomo Khoudari, managing principal of Elion Partners, said.

City Council didn’t have any complaints or opposition to any part of the plans, however, members expressed concern over traffic pattern changes the new development will bring and how current residents will adapt.

“This is an exciting development (but) it’s always a little bit of trouble when we significantly change the traffic pattern that A., people are used to and B., that impacts businesses,” Rebholz said.

New access points will change traffic flow on Hudson Road, which is frequently used to get into various neighborhoods and commercial properties and as an east-west corridor within Woodbury.

Drivers will have to get used to entering and existing the site via three-quarter intersections, which means no left turns out of the site and no left turns onto Hudson Road.

City Planner Eric Searles said northbound traffic from Commons Drive turning left/west onto Hudson Road is a “dangerous movement today.”

Modifications were in the works anyway to eliminate collisions frequently occurring as a result of drivers coming off Commons Drive at a high speed.

New patterns suggest users of the commercial properties on Commons Drive should avoid Hudson Road completely during peak times and use Tamarack Road to get back onto Radio and I-94.

“There will be some delay,” Searles said. “But staff feels the benefit outweighs the time costs.”

Users of City Place will still have full access from the main entrance off of Radio Drive, which is a signalized intersection currently called State Farm Way.

Another major change is a single lane roundabout at Hudson Road and Spring Hill Drive.

Engineers say the new feature is intended to smooth out stacking and delays between the site and the eastern portion of the city especially during peak times and when City Place office buildings begin filling up with employees.

The other three-quarter intersection proposed is Woodbury Lakes Road, which will give westbound traffic from the mall access to the site, a change from its current one-way, eastbound status.

Elion Partner Juan DeAngulo expressed excitement over the site plans and the city’s work to bring the vision full circle.

“It’s been 18 months now and it’s been a great collaborative process,” he said. “We have very much enjoyed being a part of the process and working with a lot of really high quality groups including our partner Kraus-Anderson.”

Lisa Weik, Washington County commissioner who represents Woodbury on the board, said the loss of 1,500 jobs for eight years has had a negative ripple effect throughout the city and the exciting prospect of hundreds of new living-wage jobs and construction employment can't come soon enough.

"Woodbury is the economic engine of Washington County and the success of this project can't be overstated in terms of increasing local economic stability and quality of life for residents," she said. "I believe we'll look back on the sale and redevelopment of the State Farm campus and see it as a pivotal turning point in the revitalization of our community after suffering the harsh effects of the economic downturn."

Elion expects to close on the property in early September.

The current land value is $8.6 million and the total site is valued at $20.6 million, according to Washington County property records.

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.