Co-op, senior housing reach out to residents

About 80 people showed up to talk about the proposed plans for the vacant lot at the corner of Maple Street and East 7th Street. (submitted photo)

A rough view of how the two buildings would fit on the lot at the corner of East 7th Street and Maple Street. With parking behind, and the stores butting up against the curb, the idea is to create pedestrian street appeal along the Dayton’s Bluff commercial corridor. (Contributed photo)

Two businesses are eyeing the vacant East 7th Street site, and took the time to hear from residents early on

After a community input meeting, the potential site for a new food co-op and senior housing complex looks to be on track.

An estimated 80 community members met to talk about the proposed plan for the empty city-owned lot along East 7th Street. Once the site of Hospital Linens, the sizable plot has been vacant for more than six years. Two groups, Mississippi Market and Dominium, are in talks with the city to put two new buildings on the lot.

Though early in the process, the developers, Mississippi Market and Dominium, have made a point of reaching out to residents.

Tracy Sides, who lives and works on the East Side, thought the meeting was effective.

“Everybody felt like they had an opportunity for their voice to be heard,” said Sides, who works with the Gateway Food Cooperative, a group that’s been working to get a co-op location on the East Side since 2011.

The developers started talking to local folks “early enough in the process that it doesn’t just feel like lip service,” Sides added.

The businesses felt similarly about the effort.

“It was productive to get input early on in the process,” said Owen Metz, developer at Dominium, who the business looking to put in market-rate senior housing on the site. The building would be four stories tall and contain about 100 apartments.

Such an approach was “earlier than we’re used to,” he said, “but I think it will help guide us.”

While nothing’s set in stone yet, Deanna Foster, director of the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council, said the businesses seem serious.

“They obviously have a deep commitment to it already,” she said.

Neighborhood revitalization

Foster touts the development as an exciting prospect for the area.

It can contribute to “making this a viable community district that’s more marketable and pedestrian-friendly,” she said. So it’s encouraging that they plan on building right up against the sidewalk facing out on East Seventh Street.

Struck by the turnout, Gail Graham, manager of Mississippi Market, said the community seems engaged in making sure the project works for the area.

The feedback that struck her the most was from residents “wanting to make sure that it has positive impact on East 7th,” she said.

“East Siders are very proud of the East Side and want to make sure this opportunity is fully taken advantage of,” she said.

Foster said residents’ concerns pertained mostly to things like parking, curb appeal and traffic.

May of the questions were “the same questions that come up from every development from people who live around it,” she said.

“People worried about traffic,” she said. “You live there, and if we’re going to do develop in the city ... that means you’re going to have traffic,” she said.

“Either that or we have to leave vacant land around you, and that’s not good either,” Foster added.

Part of the meeting included gathering feedback on a questionnaire – the city is processing the data from that to provide additional feedback to the developers.

Diversity of clientele

Foster also said there was a lack of diversity among attendees of the meeting. But rather than ignore it, residents addressed it, she said.

“There was a concern about that,” she said. “They said ‘why aren’t the other people here?’”

Foster added that people at the meeting were concerned about making sure the potential new co-op would be affordable to a variety of clientele in the area, and provide foods relevant to the cultural cooking of the various ethnic groups that paint the neighborhood.

Graham said the Gateway Food Cooperative has been taking that into consideration – every Sunday in July, they’re holding public dinners where a chef makes dishes inspired by their ethnic tradition. There will be Latino, Hmong and European dishes.

Next steps

Getting everything lined up for the two businesses to take over the site will be a long process and would last through next spring at a minimum. After that, Owen Metz, developer at Dominium said building would likely take an additional year before the places opened up shop.

Last fall St. Paul put out a “request for interest” to see who would want to develop the plot. They heard from the two parties and facilitated talks between them to fit the two different projects on the same lot. The city saw the two as viable options because Mississippi Market was looking at a plan that would not require the entire lot, and Dominium was willing to work with the co-op.

The two businesses plan on hiring consulting firms to conduct market research, to see if there’s a viable market for their concepts. After that, they’ll ballpark building costs and try to hammer out the land deal with the city.

In all, the tone of the project rings positive for the residents, said Foster.

“The community is pretty demanding that there be input ... and that things not just be done to them,” she said. “This was a very productive way of doing it.”

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at

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