A popular community gardening site has been deemed “surplus property” by Hennepin County and the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CP). The county and the railroad issued a request for proposal (RFP) to purchase the site on the corner of 37th Ave. N.E. and University Ave. N.E. on Feb. 9.
The site is the size of a city block and includes five irregularly-shaped parcels of land. Three are owned by Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA) and two are owned by CP. The HCRRA parcels cover 5.75 acres; the railroad’s parcels take in 1.8 acres. CP owns another .67 acres it’s willing to sell as an add-on to the RFP. The owners want to sell the land in one chunk instead of individual parcels.
Hennepin County originally purchased its portion of the property from Cargill, Inc., in 1991, with an eye to preserving abandoned rail corridors in case they could be used for light rail service. According to the RFP, the original purchase also included 1.47 acres of land north of 37th Ave. N.E., which the county sold to the Columbia Heights Housing and Redevelopment Authority in 1993.
The Columbia Park Neighborhood Association (CPNA) worked with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) to create the community gardens. A 2008 Neighborhood Revitalization Project report stated, “CPNA constructed an artistic water tower; a small train shed picnic area, community garden plots and gateway sign welcoming southbound travelers along University Avenue to the Columbia Park Neighborhood and the City of Minneapolis, with NRP funds. Many trees, flowers and plants were planted to enhance the beauty of this open space.”
MPRB has used the property as a place to “stage” trees for planting, as has the City of Minneapolis. All these uses of the property have been considered “interim” by the HCRRA and the railroad while they decided what to do with it. After 25 years of ownership, Hennepin County declared it surplus in 2016.
J. Michael Noonan, real estate manager for Hennepin County, said in an email, “The use of this property for future transit options has been considered. This is not a corridor that has been identified for a future LRT or some other transit option. This assessment was a contributing factor to declaring . . . the land surplus.”
Liz Wielinski, speaking on behalf of the CPNA, expressed concern that the sale of the property would “create an undesirable industrial use within our neighborhood. We currently have over half of the land within [HCRRA] boundaries made up of two large railyards, CP’s Shoreham Yards and BNSF’s Northtown Yard. . . the thought of a large multi-modal truck yard with constant traffic moving in for its access to these two railroads is disturbing.”
The RFP says the property has a light industrial zoning designation and will be sold “as is.” It also states that the request is for proposals, not bids. Proposals will be considered in view of Minneapolis’ planning and development process. Noonan pointed out, “Until we receive proposals we have no idea as to what may be proposed for the use of the land.”
Proposals must include a price per square foot, the intended use of the property and any proposed improvements. Proposers must also provide their track record in the type of land use or business they propose and their financial capabilities.
Proposals are due at Hennepin County Purchasing and Contract Services by 3 p.m. April 13, 2018. They will be reviewed during April and May, and any recommendations will be presented to the HCRRA Board in June. If a proposal meets with approval, a purchase agreement will be negotiated in July. Noonan expects a 90 to 150-day contingency period will be included in the purchase agreement. This allows time for environmental and geotechnical studies, a land survey, title search, municipal approval and financing. Sale of the property would close in October.
Perhaps the Columbia Park gardeners will have one more growing season after all.
Below: HCRRA and Canadia Pacific Railroad seek proposals for this property on 37th and University (Photo provided by HCRRA)