Address: 220 Lake St. N., Forest Lake
Apartment units: 104
Retail: 6,300 square feet
Developer: Gaughan Cos.
Architect: BKV Group
Details: Work is underway on Lighthouse Lofts, a five-story mixed-use project on the site of the former city hall in Forest Lake.
Local developer Gaughan Cos. took possession of the vacant building from the city’s Economic Development Authority last month and has already completed demolition.
The new 156,000-square-foot complex, along Lake Street just north of the city’s picturesque downtown, will include 104 market-rate apartment units with large windows and luxury finishes. Most of the units will have a private patio or balcony, with some along Lake Street and 2nd Avenue NW. accessible as walk-ups. The ground floor will include resident amenities such as a lobby, concierge, meeting rooms and a cafe, as well as a full-service restaurant and 3,000 square feet of additional retail space.
The top floor will have an outdoor amenity area including a club room and deck boasting “spectacular views of Forest Lake.” The complex will have an underground parking ramp as well as dedicated surface parking.
The Forest Lake City Council in January approved a $1.34 million tax increment financing package to assist the developer in getting the longtime civic property onto the property tax rolls.
Gaughan said it is aiming for a May 2018 opening date.
Two squat brick buildings near Tires Plus on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul would be demolished to make room for 60 market-rate apartments under a proposal from a Forest Lake-based developer.
The Union Park District Council’s land-use committee reviewed preliminary plans this week.
The developer, Gaughan Cos., and the architect, BKV Group, have proposed parking on the first floor and underground, according to the district council.
The building at 304-308 N. Snelling Ave. would be four or five stories, stepping back toward Carroll Avenue.
The west end of Carroll Avenue is one-way headed westbound, and some on the land-use committee have suggested asking the city to reconfigure the street so that it is two-way to allow better ingress.
Retail is not part of the proposal. The two-story commercial structure at 304 Snelling Ave. was constructed in 1913, according to Ramsey County property records. Information about the adjoining structure was not immediately available.
The “for sale” signs send a clear, notice-me message to developers: Why not build here?
They call out from vacant parcels of city-owned land across Anoka, urging developers to take a second look at a city that’s been built out for decades.
Unlike several of its neighbors, there’s not much open space left in this northern suburb of 17,000 residents, making redevelopment the name of the game. And the game is heating up.
At least eight projects — mostly a mix of commercial developments and townhouses — are now in the works on sites featured in the city’s real estate “lookbook,” which is simply a collection of photos posted online.
Anoka leaders say this upswing in momentum comes courtesy of aggressive marketing, a rebounding economy and a new community development director, Doug Borglund.
“We’re hitting the market right when it’s hot,” said City Manager Greg Lee. “[Borglund] has been active marketing these properties and been very successful.”
Borglund came to Anoka nearly a year ago with more than two decades of involvement in local government as a planner, administrator and development director in places like Forest Lake and Howard Lake.
One of his first tasks involved getting familiar with Anoka’s development lookbook, a key part of the city’s efforts to get properties back on the tax rolls. In 2010, the city studied tax-exempt land in town and found that just over 20 percent of properties by total market value were nontaxable — a number city leaders say they consider much too high.
Nearby Ramsey and Andover, for instance, had tax-exempt totals closer to 5 and 7 percent, respectively, in 2010, the most recent state data available. Churches, schools and government buildings add to a city’s tax-exempt totals, as do fairground facilities in places like Falcon Heights.
In an effort to remedy its own total, Anoka staff took an inventory of all the scraps and parcels of open city land left in town and assembled the sites in a lookbook. They represent about 90 acres ripe for renewal, Borglund said.
The booklet, for instance, lists a site where city leaders envision a new outdoor restaurant downtown, as well as parcels near the Green Haven Golf Course, where they would like to see some new housing.
City Council members say any development has to be a good long-term fit before a sale goes through.
“The city can be very selective because it owns the sites,” Borglund said.
A tricky balance
The effort to redevelop these plots of land has met occasional resistance from groups that want the land to stay green space.
Last month, city leaders met with residents about a builder’s interest in putting housing on vacant lots that had been used as a neighborhood park.
The feedback was clear.
“The neighborhood didn’t want it to be redeveloped,” Council Member Brian Wesp said. So the city removed the lots, known as Bob Ehlen Park, from its lookbook and placed deed restrictions on them so that they remain park space.
Similar objections arose over land at Rudy Johnson Park, located off Hwy. 10. The city also opted to leave it be.
“It’s a touchy subject,” Lee said. “The city is trying to balance citizens’ desires to keep green space and the desire to reduce their taxes.”
In the coming months, work crews will be breaking ground at sites around town as Borglund and his team nurse ongoing projects “to the finish line,” he said.
“April is kind of go-time for construction,” Borglund said.
The new staffer said his job has benefited from a stronger economy, but other Anoka leaders say Borglund is key to the city’s redevelopment efforts.
“I call him a rock star when I see him,” said Council Member Jeff Weaver. “He brings professionalism and expertise to the table.”
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The Lighthouse Lofts under construction in downtown Forest Lake sound like something you’d find in downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul.
The $22 million, five-story mixed-use development, which will open next spring, will feature 103 apartments, underground parking, a lobby, coffee bar, fitness center, retail space and a full-service restaurant. The top floor will have a rooftop deck and a club room for entertaining, with views of the lake.
It’s being built at the site of the old city hall building at 220 N. Lake St. The developer is Gaughan Cos., based in Forest Lake.
“This is the first project like this in Forest Lake,” said Dan Hebert, Gaughan’s senior vice president of commercial accounts. “It’s going to feel like you’re walking into a hotel. These are market-rate, amenity-rich apartments. Each unit will have gas range, washer and dryer, 8-foot windows and a balcony.”
He compared the 156,000-square-foot project to Vue Apartment Homes at 415 Oak Grove St. in Minneapolis. The Forest Lake complex, on a 2.8-acre site on the Hardwood Creek Trail about a block from the lake, will have about 4,300 square feet of retail space and a 3,200-square-foot restaurant with a two-sided patio. There will be 11 walk-out units on the first floor.
“We’re seeing a large population of people wanting to rent by choice,” Hebert said. “We think we’re a little bit ahead of the market out here; but we’re fine to be ahead of the market and not the other way, so we’re very confident.”
A number of potential clients have already expressed interest, he said.
“I think it’s going to be split up into a few different markets and demographics,” he said. “You’re going to see millennials, you’re going to see baby boomers, you’re going to see people selling their house who live in Forest Lake, and also see people selling their house in a different city and moving to Forest Lake.”
Gaughan has done other projects in Forest Lake, including Plaza on the Lake and a development near the new city hall.
“We build really high-quality buildings, and we invest in the community,” said Hebert, who lives in Forest Lake. “Some developers build to flip. We’re not flippers. We are long-time owners.”
The Forest Lake City Council earlier this year approved $1.34 million in tax-increment financing for up to 14 years for the project.
“We were looking for something to be a significant development in our project and (to) position that site to add additional vitality to our downtown, which we really think it’s going to do,” said City Administrator Aaron Parrish.
Lighthouse Lofts should appeal to young professionals and snowbirds, he said.
“We hear from a lot of people who want to have a summer presence in Forest Lake,” he said. “This is where they are from, they want something nicer. They might have a retirement home elsewhere, and they are looking forward to being back near family for a certain part of the year.”
City officials put the old city hall building on the market in 2012 with an asking price of $700,000, but received no offers, Parrish said. The city sold the building to Gaughan for $1.
City employees, including the police and fire departments, moved to the new Forest Lake City Center on U.S. 61 in December 2014.