A series of community input meetings have solidified the general principles guiding the redevelopment of the Southdale Library site on the Richfield-Edina border, while most details are yet to emerge.
Since December, the city of Edina and Hennepin County have been gathering the thoughts of stakeholders regarding the site at the southwest corner of York Avenue and West 70th Street. Residents of both Edina and Richfield have attended series of public vision-shaping sessions.
Southdale Library is hosting another public input session from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 23, when patrons will be able to share their ideas for the new library.
The 44-year-old facility, which also houses district courts and formerly housed a Hennepin County Service Center, is tentatively set to be reconstructed in 2020, according to the city of Edina’s Southdale project website. However, the county has no tentative date set for the reconstruction.
While the county owns the 8-acre site, the Edina Housing and Redevelopment Authority has taken the lead on the project.
The city of Edina’s economic development manager, Bill Neuendorf, updated the Richfield City Council on the project’s status during a March 14 work session at the Richfield Municipal Center.
Based on the city of Edina’s guiding principals for redevelopment, and the public input taken during the past four months, certain aspects of the project are starting to become more clear.
At 70,000 square feet and two stories tall, the library leaves an expanse for other redevelopment on the land. That space will open up because the scope of services at the county complex are being dispersed to other sites.
The government service center moved to Southdale Mall last year, while the district court facility will move to Bloomington Civic Plaza in 2018. When the library is rebuilt, Neuendorf said one thing the public can count on is more green space at the site.
“I think the general rule is more is better. Even more, is better than more,” he said.
It also became clear from input sessions that the public wants the new library to be a standalone building, unattached from the rest of the redevelopment on the parcel, Neuendorf said.
The project is embracing a more pedestrian-friendly approach, with improved connections to the surrounding neighborhood, according to Neuendorf. At the same time, the information clearinghouse is to remain a regional destination, serving Edina, Richfield, the northern half of Bloomington, eastern Eden Prairie, St. Louis Park and southwest Minneapolis, he noted.
All the while, people can expect a multicultural, multigenerational and family-friendly approach, he added.
As for the rest of the site’s redevelopment, Neuendorf said it will be guided with an emphasis on mixed-use projects.
Much still up for debate
Still up for discussion is how the framework will ultimately guide the Southdale Library site.
Building height is one remaining issue of contention. They could be as tall as six stories, according to Victor Pechaty, a senior project designer with HGA, an architectural and engineering firm hired to take the public input and turn it into preliminary illustrations representing that vision. Hennepin County is yet to officially set the six-story cap, however.
The public prefers that the shorter buildings grace the east side of the site, along Xerxes Avenue, in order to embrace the single-family home neighborhood in Richfield on the other side of the street, Pechaty said.
Richfield staff members reminded Neuendorf of Richfield residents’ dissatisfaction of the shadow cast by the recently built Onyx Apartments, situated on the Edina side of Xerxes a half-mile north of the library.
Because libraries have tall ceilings, a new two-story Southdale Library would be 40 feet tall, according to Neuendorf.
Due to the rebuilt facility’s potential impact on the adjacent neighborhood, it will be important to carefully consider how far the building is set back from the street, Richfield City Manager Steve Devich said. The intensity of the use on the Xerxes side also has to be considered, Richfield Community Development Director John Stark added.
Neuendorf asked for any suggestions to address the neighborhood impact.
“Don’t build a tall building in a residential neighborhood – that’s a solution,” said Richfield Mayor-elect Pat Elliott.
The discussion also focused on what type of non-library amenities the site will feature. One possibility is for Richfield and Edina to work together to develop the property for a community use, although Neuendorf noted neither city has any budgeted item that would fit the site.
The space could be used for an indoor concert facility, suggested Doris Rubenstein, a member of the Richfield Housing and Redevelopment Authority. While Richfield has two outdoor stages under development, it lacks a venue for indoor performances, Rubenstein said. And while Edina’s Edinborough Park indoor facility is often used for concerts, the acoustics are lacking, she observed, to which Neuendorf agreed.
An indoor concert space would be “a wonderful complement and a great asset to both of our communities,” Rubenstein said.
Elliott voiced some support for the idea, too.
“It would make the property much more attractive and have much more of a cultural feel to it,” he said.
While the vision for the parcel is still up in the air, one thing can be certain: It will include some form of parking, which Pechaty said could be placed underground.
Neuendorf described one prevailing public sentiment regarding parking. He relayed that people are saying, “When you pull into the site or when you walk down the street you should not just see a sea of parking.”
Gauging the building market
To further determine what kind of redevelopment will occur at Southdale Library, a consulting firm provided a market outlook.
Maxfield Research and Consulting found strong market demand for senior condominiums as well as retail. Strong demand exists for rental properties, too, but the firm cautioned there may be too many units currently going on the market.
“They didn’t use the word ‘bubble,’ but they implied a bubble,” Neuendorf said.
The research firm advised planners to steer away from office space unless it comes with built-in tenants, according to Neuendorf.
The preliminary Southdale Library planning process should be wrapped up in late spring, followed by requests for proposals issued for developers, he said.
Whatever concrete ideas come forth, Neuendorf emphasized that county planners “don’t want to just put a ‘for sale’ sign in the front yard. They want to make sure the redevelopment that happens here is complementary to the library.”
Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter
After being posted, this story was altered regarding the limit of building height at the Southdale Library site, the date of its reconstruction, and the nature of the Thursday, March 23, meeting. Also, Edina Economic Development Manager Bill Neuendorf said the redevelopment must be complementary to the “library,” not the “property.”