Implementing the Port Riverwalk master plan

Meetings will soon take place between city of Coon Rapids staff and Shamrock Development representatives on the redevelopment of 31 acres of vacant city-owned property south of Coon Rapids Boulevard between Egret Boulevard and Avocet Street.

This property is located within Port Riverwalk, for which the Coon Rapids City Council has approved the updated preliminary and final port master plans as well as an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan incorporating the plan changes on the recommendation of the Coon Rapids Planning Commission.

Port Riverwalk lies north and south of Coon Rapids Boulevard from Egret Boulevard to East River Road.

A recommendation of the revised master plan is to market the 31 acres, which includes the former Coon Rapids Shopping Center site, on the south side of the boulevard for primarily residential development with higher density projects along the boulevard and more moderate density housing at the south and east ends.

Rottlund Homes, in partnership with Shamrock Development, had a project approved by the council in 2006 for 240 townhomes and a 60-unit senior condominium building.

But the project never got off the ground when the housing market soured and the approved site plan lapsed in 2007. Rottlund Homes has since gone out of business.

In 2008, the Coon Rapids Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which comprises the seven members of the council, negotiated a memorandum of understanding with Shamrock Development in which Shamrock would complete a site master plan.

But with the country in a major recession the time frame for Shamrock to complete the master plan was postponed, said Matt Brown, city community development specialist.

However, the memorandum of understanding with Shamrock remains in place, he said.

According to Jerry Teeson, community and industrial real estate consultant with Coon Rapids-based Shamrock Development, Jim Stanton, Shamrock Development owner, wants to meet with the city to talk about development options for the property.

“Jim is still interested in developing the site, absolutely,” Teeson said.

“We are working with city staff to set up a meeting.”

Meantime, the city will begin work on some infrastructure improvements in Port Riverwalk that were past of the master plan update recommendations, Brown said.

These include:

• Improve the Clay Hole to function as an amenity for area residents, including clearing scrub and providing pedestrian access, then develop a long-term plan for incremental improvements to the Clay Hole.

• Construct a parkway or green corridor parallel to Coon Rapids Boulevard between Egret and Avocet Street to include pedestrian and bicycle facilities and replacement of the existing frontage road on the south side of the boulevard.

• Enhance the pedestrian and bicycle environment at the intersection of Avocet and the boulevard.

The city used funds from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brownfields grant to update the Port Riverwalk master plan.

The study was led by Stantec, a consultant who completed planning, environmental and engineering work for the plan update, and a steering committee comprising two planning commission members, neighborhood residents and nearby business and property owners.

According to Brown, there was also a policy advisory committee with two city councilmembers, the city manager and the planning commission chairperson involved in the planning process.

As well, city staff and the consultant interviewed four developers and real estate experts to get insight on Port Riverwalk’s strengths and weaknesses in the marketplace, Brown wrote in a report to the commission.

The master plan establishes “future land uses and relationships, traffic circulation, pedestrian systems and examples of building types,” he wrote.

Prior to developing the updated master plan, Stantec completed a market study for the entire Coon Rapids Boulevard corridor.

Major conclusions of the market analysis for Port Riverwalk were:

• While the corridor has the spending power to support another 68,000 square feet of retail space by 2020, Port Riverwalk is not well positioned compared with other sites for retail with the exception of a small amount of convenience retail.

• Port Riverwalk does not have the accessibility and visibility to attract major office users.

• Existing rent rates in the trade area are relatively low, making it challenging to support construction of new rental housing, but it is estimated the corridor could support up to 80 market rate rental units and 270 affordable rental units through 2020.

• The corridor could support senior housing in the form of 150-175 independent living senior units, 50-70 assisted living units and 25-35 memory care units through 2020.

• Demand for condominiums and townhouses is currently weak, but will come back in the long term.

According to Brown, the updated Port Riverwalk master plan “focuses on improving connections among recreational amenities to maximize demand for new development.”

There are several natural amenities close to Port Riverwalk, including the Mississippi River (Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park), Coon Creek Trail and Al Flynn Park, but the area has poor access and connections to them, Brown said.

“This limits the value the redevelopment sites realize from the amenities,” he wrote in the report.

By focusing on “incremental infrastructure projects,” the master plan will enhance market demand for development and entice private investment, according to Brown.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]