The city of Minnetonka wants to increase density, improve traffic flow, make area more walkable and add green space, trails
For years, the city of Minnetonka has envisioned plans to transform the Ridgedale Center area into a higher-density, more walkable, mixed-use community that would become more of a gathering spot, rather than just a place to shop.
Similar to other suburbs, Minnetonka is looking to make the city more pedestrian-friendly and attractive to both empty-nesters and young professionals.
Now that vision is starting to become a reality.
Redevelopment proposals for sites around the mall are coming in, and Ridgedale Center itself has made major improvements. Built in the 1970s, Ridgedale has completed significant updates, including the redesign of the Macy’s store, the addition of Nordstrom and a 50,000-square-foot expansion. Plus, additional development by mall owner GGP is underway.
The city’s vision for the area
In 2012, the city released “Ridgedale: A Vision for 2035,” which essentially looks at how the Ridgedale area could look over the next two decades. In 2017, it released the “Ridgedale Area Public Realm Guidelines,” which focus on transforming the shopping center into a mixed-use community and providing developers with design inspiration and guidance.
The master plan calls for adding 800 new housing units, 180,000 square feet of office/medical office space, 250 hotel rooms, a conference center and new restaurants. Each new project would add public amenities and pedestrian connections to link building entrances, parking, sidewalks, transit stops and other destinations. Plans call for improving streets and sidewalks to encourage walking and bicycle use, enhancing transit service, and over time, replacing surface parking with structured parking.
The guidelines also focus on enhancing the area’s natural features and encouraging environmentally friendly places. It outlines improvements including rebuilding Ridgedale Drive into a tree-lined parkway – which is scheduled to begin in 2019 — and improving the area’s other main streets – Plymouth Road, Wayzata Boulevard and Cartway Lane — to help manage traffic flow.
The city is investing in major road infrastructure.
“The city has a vision to redo the 1970s mall pattern,” says Julie Wischnack, Minnetonka community development director. “It doesn’t happen overnight. The road projects are intended to start creating a new pattern that has trails and sidewalks, vegetation, storm water enhancements — all those things that are so missing from that area.”
Redevelopment of Highland Bank property is catalyst
One significant project getting credit for kicking off the city’s vision is the redevelopment of the Highland Bank property into a $35 million, mixed-use apartment building called The Residences at 1700.
St. Louis Park-based Bader Development and St. Paul-based Paster Properties partnered to redevelop the property at 1700 and 1730 Plymouth Road, directly across from Ridgedale Center. The three-story bank building, which was owned by Paster, was demolished to make way for the six-story, 115-unit mixed-use apartment/retail complex.
“Paster is a retailer developer and we’re a multifamily developer, and we thought we could both put our expertise to good use and create this urban-style development,” says Robb Bader, president of Bader Development.
“We noticed this [type of development] happening certainly in St. Louis Park at West End and in Edina at Southdale, and it really wasn’t really happening around Ridgedale,” Bader says. “However, Ridgedale had a lot of investment poured into it and continues to as a mall. Nordstrom was a driver and clearly it worked, because there are many other retailers coming. You see that, and you see the demographics of the area and you really put two and two together. The multifamily around there before ours was 20-plus years old.”
Bader says this type of higher-density, urban-style project is what the city envisioned when they started talking a “long ways back.”
“Somebody’s got to kick it off,” Bader adds. “We felt the demographics are strong enough and the demand was strong enough that we were willing to make that type of investment and be the first one in.”
“That project probably started this interest in what’s going on at Ridgedale,” Wischnack says. “That project was a pretty big investment. Once people see that happening, there’s continued interest and synergy among other projects. “
The Residences at 1700’s luxury apartments and the 15,800 square feet of ground-floor retail – called The Shoppes at 1700 – opened in 2017. The retail space includes a new Highland Bank, T-Mobile, Caribou Coffee/Einstein Bros. Bagels and Craft Burger.
Bader says the apartments are between 96 and 98 percent leased, which is “exactly where you want to be.”
Amenities include heated underground parking, an outdoor pool/sundeck, lounge areas, a yoga studio, clubroom and fitness center.
In terms of unit size, Bader says they’re a little bigger than traditional urban apartments currently being developed. “We deliberately did that recognizing that a big chunk of our demographics would be empty-nesters living in that area and looking for a different lifestyle; maybe leaving a home and wanted something a little bigger,” he says.
High-profile TCF Bank site is redeveloped
Across the street, Eden Prairie-based Solomon Real Estate Group redeveloped the TCF Bank property, located at the main entrance into Ridgedale Center, into the Ridgedale Corner Shoppes. The project includes a new 2,400-square-foot TFC Bank branch attached to about 7,800 square feet of new retail space leased to Starbucks, Wedding Day and Sprint. TCF owns the bank branch while Solomon owns and operates the retail space.
“We had gone through a whole bunch of design configurations because the city considers it the gateway into the Ridgedale mall area,” says Solomon Real Estate partner Steve Johnson. “RSP Architects designed this building, which is a little different than traditional retail buildings because of its much more high-profile look.”
The building design is contemporary with a translucent glass tower and brick accents. Johnson says lighting accents will allow the building to be very prominent in the evening hours.
“We did lots of work with them to keep this vibe that we’re trying to create,” Wischnack says. “There was a lot of back and forth about design. They stuck it out and were able to make that corner really look like it should. It was an old colonial, 1970s- branch, and they have new branding. We were able to get a really good project in the end.”
Ridgedale Center building restaurants, entertainment in parking lot
Ridgedale’s owners GGP have their own development project underway. GGP is creating restaurant/entertainment pads – including outdoor patios and landscaping — in the northwest corner of the mall’s parking lot.
This is a growing trend in which malls are turning underused portions of their surface parking lots into high-density uses like restaurants, hotels and apartments. Southdale Center in Edina, for example, has high-end apartments and a hotel in part of its parking lot.
GGP will have a new building under construction soon for iFLY, an indoor skydiving venue. It will be iFLY’s first Minnesota location and is scheduled to open in November. Xfinity Store by Comcast will open a location in late summer/early fall. Café Zupas will open this summer, and plans call for another fast-casual restaurant and there’s also space for a full-service restaurant, says Joan Suko, senior general manager at Ridgedale Center/GGP.
“It’s just kind of been underutilized,” Suko says of that section of the surface lot. “Cities are excited about adding some densification where they can. It will be an additional attraction for us for sure.”
What else is happening at Ridgedale Center?
“We’ve got a lot going on,” Suko adds. New beauty concept store Riley Rose opened its first Twin Cities location in March. The Cheesecake Factory opened last October, and Old Navy will open on the lower level center court in late summer. The mall also has a new 6,000-square-foot indoor kids’ play area.
Sears is an anchor at Ridgedale, however, the giant retailer announced in April that it’s closing its Maplewood Mall store, leaving just four stores in the Twin Cities. The Ridgedale location will likely be redeveloped in the relatively near future.
GGP owns the Sears building. “Obviously, down the road we’re looking for some development opportunity,” Suko says. “That whole side of the property has a lot of potential, and certainly quite a few scenarios that developers are looking at down the road.” She says potential redevelopment could include everything from a food hall and entertainment to residential and other uses.
Housing proposals on the drawing board
Dallas-based developer Trammell Crow Co. is proposing a six-story, 168-unit senior apartment building on another underutilized Ridgedale parking lot that would also include a public park. The site is in the southwest corner of the mall’s parking lot and is owned by J.C Penney.
Trammell Crow’s project — called the Ridgedale Active Adult Apartments — would offer luxury senior living for the 55-plus demographic. Minneapolis-based ESG Architects is the project architect, and plans call for amenities like an outdoor terrace with a pool and hot tub, a fitness center and community room.
The proposal goes before the Minnetonka City Council in early June.
Ridgedale Executive Apartments proposed
Across the street to the south of Trammell Crow’s site, Minnetonka developer Rotenberg Cos. is proposing an upscale, 77-unit apartment project on the site where Redstone Grill previously was located, before relocating in Ridgedale Center.
The vacant restaurant building, owned by Rotenberg Cos., would be razed and a new, four-story luxury apartment building called the Ridgedale Executive Apartments would be constructed. The project would include a mix of one- and two-bedroom units. Amenities would include fitness facilities (including yoga, Pilates and spin studios), a community room, an outdoor patio/pool area, a sports simulator and putting green. Also, a 24-hour onsite concierge would be available. The proposal says the units are designed to attract both empty-nesters and young professionals. The proposal was scheduled to go before the city’s planning commission in late May.