A real estate transaction currently under way would have a crescent-shaped commercial property in the Bottineau neighborhood become an auto impound lot. Employees of Bobby & Steve’s Auto World Downtown, along with broker Chad Blihovde and designers from Civil Site Group gave a presentation at a Bottineau Neighborhood Association Board meeting the evening of March 12, outlining the auto service company’s plans for the site, for which they have a purchase agreement.
The 2.3-acre property at 1901 Grand St. NE is primarily fenced land bordered by rail tracks on the East, and includes the Sinclair Depot building, a 5000-sq.-ft. events venue. It has been owned by Steve Loftman for the past 30 years and is currently zoned Industrial-1. The buyers are seeking a change to Industrial-2, and a conditional use permit to operate an impound lot.
Bobby & Steve’s Operations Manager Allen Sando gave some background to the proposal: “Besides auto service and repair, we do towing. Our primary towing business in the city is with AAA; we also tow for state patrol, taking cars off the highway. We do Class A impounding, which means that the drivers, trucks and businesses are regulated. It is not predatory towing, which a lot of suburbs and other cities do; we don’t patrol streets looking for violations. We work for the property owners of the city of Minneapolis. Property owners must call us if they need a car removed or impounded. And with Class A towing, all impounds must stay in the city limits. We are one of four companies that do this.
“We have a lot we’re using in South Minneapolis that would still be used for cars towed in that area, and with a new lot, people from North and Northeast wouldn’t have to travel as far to get their cars.” Sando added, “We want to do a lot more with this site besides being an impound lot. There are two buildings on the property, which we do not need at all. Our vision … is to cover the perimeter and vehicles with landscaping. There’s a lot of space in the buildings for artists. We want to make sure that this is a mixed-use property. We will be rebuilding our South lot this summer, and we want this new lot to be the most beautiful lot in the Midwest, with lots of trees and pollinators. It’s going to be gorgeous.”
Blihovde, whose business, Urban Industries, specializes in identifying distressed urban properties and finding new uses for them, said, “We can dedicate part of this property at an industrial rate, a low price, for artistic use, which is what we want to do. I understand that, for art space in the Twin Cities, a lot of artists move in to an area and clean it up and make it more attractive, and then prices rise and the artists get pushed out.” He said Bobby & Steve’s would need about 400 square feet for an office “presence” at the site.
Some board members expressed concern about the number of cars that would be stored at the lot. Danielle Fleischman, Bobby & Steve’s towing department head, said 70 percent of impounded cars are released within the first 24 hours, and the city requires impound release between 8 a.m. and midnight. There would be at least one employee at the lot at all times.
Sando noted that while the lot has the capacity for up to 150 cars, “We don’t anticipate that number of cars at any one time. Of the 30 percent of cars remaining after the first day, 20 percent of those will go for salvage, which can be done after 45 days, and no disassembly or mechanical work done would be done at the lot.” He added that there would be some towing at night, such as Highway Patrol and DWI impounds, but stressed that the majority of the tows would occur during the day.
BNA Board President Mariam Slayhi said, “Have you come over here lately? This is a quiet neighborhood. You’re talking a hundred cars with tow trucks coming down the streets, at all hours of the night, all day long, and you’re having other people coming from other areas to come to get their cars. With the traffic we already have with Marshall Street, why this site? This will increase traffic in this quiet neighborhood. What about the road quality? I’m not seeing this as a plus for the neighborhood.”
Sando replied, “There may be a day when I impound two cars; or five cars. We are not a snow emergency tower. Nothing from snow emergencies or street parking is going in that lot. This is only for private property; for people who own businesses. We are not towing off the street.”
Asked if he saw snow removal towing as a future option, Sando said, “We have no ambition to seek a City contract; we don’t want it. People who do towing for snow emergencies have multiple subs and resources; we’ve been down that road in St. Paul, and it’s nothing we want to have anything to do with. Our number-one goal in the towing business is AAA; and to get cars back to our shop, to repair them, and have that customer base. Towing is a secondary aspect of that. And yes, there will be trucks going down the road; they’re not large car-haulers. They are wrecker trucks, flatbed trucks smaller than a school bus. I don’t see it being a huge increase in traffic. The struggle we have is that the spaces to do what we need to do are so shrunken down that there’s little industrial space available that the city requires us to do this in. It’s very tough, and this (site) is one of the only options we have.”
Slayhi said, “Because we don’t have traffic now, I would consider it a huge increase in traffic. If you go up there right now, it’s quiet. I don’t think the neighbors want a wrecker going down the street at like 10 at night in the summer time. It’s going to be very, very busy. We’re concerned that the more traffic you bring in, the harder it’s going to be to get through; it’s not going to be safe, and I don’t think that people want that. We’re trying to create less industrial here in Northeast; we don’t want more in this corner of Northeast. We’re already working on getting rid of industries. Especially those with environmental issues.”
Slayhi said the board would want a traffic study, one that would consider towing routes, entrances to the lot, and how the existing bike paths and cyclists would be protected. Fleischman replied, “I think the traffic study is a good point, and I think we’re going to do that. Right now, 90 percent of our business is AAA, and our trucks are on city streets every day; our drivers are trained with the utmost safety in mind. We understand that that’s a concern for you.”
Bottineau’s next scheduled meeting is in the third week of April, but Bottineau Neighborhood Coordinator Nancy Przymus thinks a special meeting before then is a possibility.
Below: The Sinclair Depot building, the home of Preferred Antiques and an events venue. (Photo by Mark Peterson) The impound lot would need about 400 square feet for an office presence. They would shield the site view with trees. (Graphic courtesy of Civil Site Group)