Reconfiguring first floor, losing drive-thru lane means Walgreens is out

By Jane McClure

Construction is scheduled to begin this month on the Pitch, Wellington Management’s planned six-story mixed-use building at 427 N. Snelling Ave. The former Bremer bank building on the property is now gone and utility work is underway. The Pitch will feature first-floor retail space with apartments above. However, it will likely not include surface parking to the south of the building or a Walgreens store inside it.

The Land Use Committee of the Union Park District Council (UPDC) heard an update on the project on April 20 from project manager Casey Dzieweczynski. Wellington will discuss adding parking during an online meeting of the UPDC’s Transportation Committee at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 11. For details, check unionparkdc.org.

“We’ve spent a lot of time as the developer, asking what the parking ratios should be,” said project manager Casey Dzieweczynski.

   
Wellington Management’s design for the Pitch, a six-story mixed-used apartment building planned on Snelling Avenue just two blocks south of University and across from Allianz Field.

The Pitch, whose name refers to the Allianz Field soccer stadium just across Snelling, will have 160 market-rate apartments ranging from micro- to two-bedroom units. The building’s exterior remains largely unchanged from what the district council and St. Paul Planning Commission approved in 2019. However, interior changes are planned on the first floor.

The development site is zoned Traditional Neighborhoods 3 and is within a quarter mile of the light-rail Green Line, so there is no minimum number of parking places required. Still, Wellington wanted to provide parking for residents and businesses.

Off-street parking has been a moving piece of the project and has been affected by delays and redesigns. Plans approved in 2019 called for two levels of underground parking with 142 spaces. Water table problems eliminated one level of underground parking and reduced the number of spaces to 55 on one level. Dzieweczynski said the parking can be increased to about 80 for residents by using a car lift that moves vehicles from the ground floor to underground. The plan also includes 18 ground-level spaces along the Snelling-Fry alley for tenants and customers.

 

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However, adding the car lift and reconfiguring the first floor took away one of two drive-through lanes. One lane is for a relocated Bremer Bank and the other was originally for a Walgreens pharmacy. Losing one drive-through meant losing Walgreens. “Operationally, it wouldn’t have worked for them,” Dzieweczynski said.

Bremer Bank will occupy about 2,500 square feet of space and Walgreens was to occupy about 5,000 square feet. The latter space could be occupied by one or two new commercial tenants. The first floor will also have a shared lobby, restrooms and utility space.

Whether more parking is needed for residents is a point of debate. Wellington is providing ample bicycle parking as well as a $50 Metro Transit Go Card for each new renter.

One idea the committee rejected on April 20 was for Wellington to enter into a five-year lease with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) for state-owned land south of the development. Wellington originally eyed that property for a larger structure, but could not reach a sale agreement with MnDOT.

Dzieweczynski said the state-owned land could allow 44 surface parking stalls for the building. The developers would make improvements and maintain the property under the lease. Improvements would include landscaping and improving stormwater drainage.

“We’ve spent a lot of time as the developer, asking what the parking ratios should be,” he said.

Lisa Austin of MnDOT said the state is retaining its properties along I-94 in anticipation of the future redesign and rebuilding of the freeway, but could agree to a five-year lease. “We’re not doing permanent uses along any right-of-way we own until we finish the I-94 planning,” she said.

The changes discussed on April 20 do not require the project to go back to the Planning Commission, which in April 2019 approved a conditional use permit to allow a height of up to 55 feet, a floor-area ratio variance to allow greater density and a nonconforming use permit to allow for the drive-through lanes.

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