Another laundromat business is coming to University Avenue in Blaine.
On a unanimous vote, the Blaine City Council acting on behalf of the Blaine Economic Development Authority approved the sale of 10501 University Ave. NE to The Linn Companies.
The city of Blaine purchased this 0.64-acre site for $260,000 on March 31 and demolished the Go For It gas station that closed in June 2014, which had become an eyesore that the council wanted to remove. The previous owner paid for removal of the fuel tanks and all soil clean-up while the city footed the bill for the structure demolition.
The council on Sept. 7 agreed to sell the property to a laundromat developer for a price of $150,000.
Stephen Linn, chief executive officer of The Linn Companies, said they would develop and continue to own and operate the laundromat and not sell it to another operator once the store is constructed.
The Tumble Fresh Coin Laundry business The Linn Companies operates can also be found in Fridley, Cottage Grove and White Bear Lake. Linn said they plan to have six of these laundromats open by the end of 2018. Other cities being looked at are Coon Rapids and Hudson, Wisconsin.
While agreeing to sell the property is a significant step, there are more to come. Planning and Community Development Director Bryan Schafer said the Blaine Planning Commission and the city council would review the plat this winter and the developer will likely need a setback variance because of how close University Avenue is.
Once all city approvals are received, Linn said the building could be constructed in four months.
A laundromat was not Blaine’s first choice when it bought this property.
Blaine Economic Development Coordinator Erik Thorvig contacted representatives for several coffee or sandwich shops, including Caribou Coffee, Dunn Brothers, Starbucks and Jimmy Johns.
None were interested. A common message he heard was the site is too far from Cub Foods in the Oak Park Plaza shopping center, which is at the corner of 109th and University avenues. Other issues for the companies were that this site is too close to other existing locations or the property did not meet the company’s general location criteria.
The Linn Companies was the only group that made an offer on this property, according to Thorvig.
An existing laundromat business (A+ Coin Wash) is just north of Tumble Fresh’s new location. Linn said he is aware that Tumble Fresh will be next door to another laundromat, but believes his building’s appearance from the large glass windows and bright lights inside the laundromat will invite new customers in.
“I think it’s a nice building and it looks good,” Mayor Tom Ryan said, before jokingly adding that the city could always put another gas station in.
Ryan said the city may have paid more than it should have for the site, but said they were getting a lot of complaints about the appearance of the closed gas station. It had been boarded shut, a fence was falling down and discarded liquor bottles were sometimes found, he said.
Council Member Dave Clark likes the pictures he sees of the other Tumble Fresh locations, and as long as the city owns the site, it would bring in no property tax revenue. But Clark said the residents he visited with are not thrilled with the type of business coming in.
“I’m hearing a lot of feedback in the area of ‘Another laundromat, can’t Blaine think of anything better,’” Clark said.
But Clark ultimately joined the rest of the council on a 6-0 vote to approve the property sale. Council Member Jason King was absent from the Sept. 7 meeting.
“Please do a good job,” Clark said to Linn after the sale was approved.
The Linn Companies has also constructed buildings for Holiday, NAPA Auto Parts and Good Year. During the economic recession, the company decided that laundromats would be a good idea to fill shopping center vacancies in more challenging markets. He said this Blaine site is small so it doesn’t work for every type of business.
Linn said there is a perception that laundromats are only used by low-income residents, but he said the large washers and dryers could clean loads of hockey uniforms or a large area rug. One machine can hold up to 135 pounds.
Clark asked if the 4,500-square-foot building could be used by another business if Tumble Fresh fails. Schafer said the site would be challenging for a restaurant since there is limited space for parking, but he said small retail businesses or a coffee shop could work.
Linn said his company also looks at “exit plans” just in case a concept does not work at a specific location. He said the building size and the amount of parking stalls would be enough for smaller retail businesses but not for a restaurant.