12/31/2007

Rosemount divided over new project with old look: Minneapolis MN Star Tribune, 11/10/07

Although it receives high marks from a Met Council panel of experts, a key piece of Rosemount's downtown rebirth is drawing considerable flak

By David Peterson

The birth pains, in the creation of a new downtown Rosemount, are audible in the voices of Wallace Johnson and Mark DeBettignies.

Johnson, president of Apple Valley-based Stonebridge Companies, is developing a huge new building that is supposed to ignite a Stillwater-like, revitalized downtown in the city's historic center.

DeBettignies is a City Council member fighting off opposition to the project. "I get tired trying to answer all the questions," he said. "People just don't see the big picture."

Each man sounds weary, despite what would seem good news: An influential Metropolitan Council advisory committee has found the project - by a decisive margin - the most impressive that any suburb offered up this year. The group recommended that Rosemount alone reap nearly $1.6 million of the $8 million available this year for innovative development.

City officials see the proposed Stonebridge project - more than 100 apartments atop ground-floor office space, with underground parking, all of it wrapped within old-time brick facades meant to recall a 19th-century downtown streetscape - as a model for the rest of the area.

A group called "Save Rosemount" sees it as an abomination. Among their reasons: The need to exercise the city's power of eminent domain to acquire one parcel, and the substitution of rentals for condos once the condo market went sour. In their literature, available on the Web, two unnamed residents say that apartment complexes "turn out to be ... all Junkies."

In reality, DeBettignies said, these will be high-quality units, built to condominium standards in hopes of converting them later. "You wouldn't believe the aesthetics," he said. "Wood floors, moldings - really nice."

Johnson, meanwhile, has had to produce version after version of his building, trying to satisfy city officials as they seek the right look, as though it were actually several older buildings.

"We've been going back and forth to get consensus," he said. "It's hard when you have six or seven people with opinions. But we're getting there."

Such projects are a recipe for migraines for all involved, said Carolyn Krall, an architect and urban designer with Landform, a Minneapolis firm that consults with cities on similar projects but is not involved with this one.

"It's been very hard for the city to attract a developer who can build the kind of traditional downtown buildings they'd like to see," she said. "Buildings that will enhance what's left of their original, historic downtown. It's very challenging.

"Developers can make a lot more money with a lot less trouble - barely a mile or two away - by adding to the miles and miles of strip malls from Savage to Rosemount."


Minneapolis MN Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com