Dixie's
A drawing of the proposed five-story, 81-unit apartment building with three ground-floor commercial spaces being proposed for the site of Dixie’s, Saji-ya and Emmet’s restaurants at 695 Grand Ave.

Some say 5-story project is too tall, others say it could revitalize Grand

Almost 200 people joined an online meeting on March 18 to discuss a proposed mixed-use development on the current site of Dixie’s on Grand, Saji-Ya and Emmett’s Public House at 695 Grand Ave. A second online meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 8, to answer the many questions raised about the $32.5 million project and to present possible design changes.

Plans call for replacing the converted one-story grocery store that houses the three restaurants with a five-story, 81-unit apartment building with three ground-floor commercial spaces. Also on the drawing board are underground parking, patios and public art.

A similar plan was shelved by the property owners in 2018 in the face of neighborhood opposition. This time around Peter Kenefick, whose family owns 695 Grand, has brought in Saint Louis Park-based Reuter Walton to help shape the development.

Dixie's on Grand
Changes lie ahead for the property at 695 Grand Ave., pictured at left, that is currently home to Dixie’s, Saji-ya and Emmet’s restaurants. Photo by Brad Stauffer

If all goes as planned, the restaurants would close this summer and the building’s demolition would start in November. Reuter Walton president Nick Walton said construction would take about a year, and people would be moving in by 2023.

The commercial spaces would total about 10,000 square feet. Saji-Ya and Emmett’s would reopen, with the third space earmarked for an unnamed retailer or restaurant. The Dixie’s name is not scheduled to return. Monkey Boys Inc., which owns the three restaurants, plans to retire the Dixie’s name because of its association with the Confederacy and slavery. 

Kenefick, who emphasized his family’s long ties to Saint Paul, said he does not want the redevelopment to become an “us-against-them” situation. He said he is concerned about the future of Grand and contended that the project would give the street a needed boost.

“Grand has gone from an uppercase ‘G’ to a lowercase ‘g,’” he said. “What if we use this model to say, ‘This is how you grow Grand Avenue?’”

 

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Some Summit Hill neighbors have strong feelings about the proposal. “Your project will likely have a strong negative impact on the properties immediately around you,” said Hillary Parsons. She and other neighbors asked about potential property damage during construction, and the impact of a taller building overshadowing smaller ones nearby.

“As someone whose view and light will be completely blocked by this huge building, I am very opposed to it,” said neighbor Barbara Brown. “I understand the need for development, but this is too large and too tall.”

“Grand has gone from an uppercase ‘G’ to a lowercase ‘g,’” said Peter Kenefick. “What if we use this model to say, ‘This is how you grow Grand Avenue?’”

Other people said there is a great need for new investment on Grand, given the number of its empty storefronts. Several people said Grand needs to change if it is to thrive again.

“High-density housing could absolutely save Grand Avenue,” said neighbor Emma Burns. “As someone who lives in an east-facing apartment, I can sympathize with being concerned about how much light a space gets. But how this project could affect a finite number of properties should not determine the future of the success of our neighborhood.”

“I support this project and feel it will improve Grand Avenue and the surrounding area,” said neighbor Beth Sternitzky. “I hope this comes to fruition.”

Others said they liked the proposed building, but wanted to see it lowered by a level or have its parking access changed.

“This project could be very positive for the neighborhood,” said neighbor Michael Hartoonian. “However, a major concern is traffic in the alley and litter caused by the cars and trucks that will service this building, as well as the renters. Renters alone would increase cars by over 100, we assume.”

The developers have met with members of the Summit Hill Association (SHA) to shape ideas for the development. Eventually, the SHA will be asked to make a recommendation on a zoning change, likely from commercial to Traditional Neighborhoods 3. A variance would also be required from the East Grand Avenue Overlay District, which limits building heights to three stories. The building at its tallest level would be 56 feet high. The project will eventually go to the Planning Commission and City Council for final approvals.

The overlay district is “very restrictive,” said Bob Loken of ESG Architects, the project’s designer. He questioned whether the district was still meeting the neighborhood’s needs.

SHA board members said the project is helping inform their current efforts to update the Summit Hill neighborhood plan. A recent survey on the plan indicated mixed responses to the types of housing the neighborhood needs and whether the overlay district should stay in place.

SHA Zoning and Land Use Committee chair Simon Taghioff said the last major development on the avenue was in 2004 when the mixed-use Oxford Hill went up at Grand and Oxford Street. Noting that much denser development is going up on University Avenue and in Highland Park, Taghioff asked, “Where does that leave Grand? We haven’t changed, but the city around us has.”

The market-rate apartments would be a mix of one- to three-bedroom units, with some smaller alcove units. The living space would also have a second-level terrace, club room and fitness room for residents’ use.

The building would include 32 commercial parking spaces accessed from Saint Albans and 73 underground residential parking spaces accessed from the Grand-Summit alley.

Use of the alley generated considerable debate. The three restaurants currently use the alley for deliveries. The new building would have a setback from the alley for deliveries.

Some of those at the meeting pushed for affordable housing and others asked that there be initiatives to include a business owned by people of color in the third commercial space.

About 30 people are currently employed at the three restaurants and the hope is that many of them will find jobs with other Twin Cities eateries during construction.

For a link to the April 8 meeting, go to summithillassociation.org/695grandave.

— Jane McClure

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