Meet the Transit Oriented Development Managers of Minneapolis and Saint Paul

February 25, 2015

 

David Frank, TOD Manager, City of Minneapolis.  Photo courtesy of The Line.

Gary Leavitt, TOD Manager, City of Saint Paul

David Frank and Gary Leavitt are the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) managers for the city of Minneapolis and City of Saint Paul respectively.  Both have deep experience in the development field and have been working with developers, property owners, residents and others to advance TOD along the Green (and Blue) lines.  We asked them to describe their job and what they’ve been working on.

 

How would you describe your job in a 140 character tweet?

David Frank: I am a matchmaker, a public broker, and my sister in law gave me a prize for, “build stuff near trains.”      

Gary Leavitt: In-the-field liaison who is able to mobilize on a potential opportunity to assist in assembly, deal structure and finance/resource guidance.                                   

 

What were some of the major projects that you worked on along the Green Line in 2014?

David Frank:  Most of my Green Line work in 2014 was centered in Prospect North, near the Prospect Park station.  A large public and private group came together to work on development and infrastructure in this area, and the City is taking a key role in helping to guide the effort. Downtown Minneapolis development has been booming lately, partly in response to the downtown light rail stations which are now served by Blue Line and Green Line trains.  Downtown East, Mill District, and North Loop have all realized increased development activity from the additional transit service.  

Gary Leavitt:  Our team (that includes staff from housing, economic development, and planning/zoning) has worked extensively moving projects through the pipeline in 2013-2014 and into construction and groundbreaking in 2015. These deals are very complicated and each person is invaluable in their contributions on getting them done.  Some of the major projects are:

  • 2700 University Avenue will be a 248 unit mixed income apartment building with construction underway in 2015.
  • Vandalia Tower at 550 Vandalia Street is being redeveloped and adding multiple new tenants including a brewery, coffee roaster, non-profit organizations, small professional businesses, and individual artists and makers.
  •  At Fairview Station two major projects are breaking ground in 2015 – a new Midway YMCA facility will be built at its current location which coincides with improvements to Dickerman Park – a linear park that currently runs in front of the YMCA and several other properties along Fairview and University.
  • Lexington Library Block: The City owns the former library building at 1080 University Avenue and will be looking at proposals from adjacent owners and other developers for a large site development to include new commercial and residential projects.
  • Hamline Station and Old Home/Western U Plaza: mixed use, affordable rentals with construction ongoing in 2015.
  • Little Mekong: The city is providing 8-80 Vitality Funds to support the development of an interim Little Mekong plaza at 394 University Avenue which will be home to the Night Market and is part of a larger vision for the block that includes housing and additional retail and other uses.
  • Saxon-Ford:  The City owns the parcel at 253 University and in early-mid 2015 will issue a request for developer interest for the site.  The city and neighborhood envisions new residential with street front commercial on the site.

 

How did the market and/or developer attitudes change in 2014 with the launch of Green Line service?  Are you working with any new developers who haven’t been involved in this market previously?

David Frank: Developers are definitely paying more attention to the Green Line station areas, but so far in Minneapolis it’s the same developers who had been interested before the Green Line.

Gary Leavitt: Prior to the train running, we saw a lot of private capital stay on the sidelines to see “what would happen.”  With the success of the Green Line, we are getting several requests for meetings regarding potential deals and how the City might be involved. We are getting calls from developers who have never developed in St. Paul and want to see how we can assist them. One of the best parts of working on the Green Line is the neighborhood involvement and input. We are seeing developers reach out to the neighborhoods as part of their due diligence to see what would enhance and strengthen communities along University Avenue.

 

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve heard while working on a Green Line project?

David Frank: “Maybe there won’t be cars in the station area at all.”  This came from a group of neighborhood stakeholders and designers – with a developer in tow – who suggested that there wouldn’t be cars in the station area.  From where I sit today, a “no car zone” is a long way off. 

Gary Leavitt: “No one will ride the train”…..ridership numbers are already nearing 2030 projections!

 

What can we look forward to along the Green Line in 2015?

David Frank: 2015 along the Green Line will hopefully see trains moving faster, some completed projects letting developers and lenders underwrite new projects more aggressively, and retail and restaurants enjoying the benefits of customers who arrive because something looked cool in the train window.

Gary Leavitt: Lots of heavy equipment and bulldozers!!