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Cottage Grove to give West Point Douglas Road corridor another look

Businesses in a small strip mall along West Point Douglas Road are located next to empty spaces with 'For Rent' signs. Other parts of the West Point Douglas corridor are undeveloped or have buildings that have not attracted buyers. Bulletin photo by Emily Buss

The troubled, under-utilized and yet highly visible West Point Douglas Road corridor is getting another look from development-minded city officials.

In a recent joint discussion with the city's economic development authority, planning commission and city council, the first steps were taken to once again search for a viable solution to the longstanding problem.

The under-developed corridor, which runs along Highway 61 from the 80th Street/Grange Avenue exit to the Jamaica Avenue exit, is nearly three miles of possible real estate plats, half of which are sitting vacant.

Recent development in the south end of the corridor brought several small shops, a healing and massage center and the Allina medical clinic. But unused land and vacant buildings still blight the area.

Two large properties that Economic Development Director Danette Parr said continue to thwart future development are the vacant former Rush Nightclub and former Majestic Ballroom. While interested parties have come forward to discuss the properties, Parr said, they have yet to sell.

"For those places, retail would not be the best option because of the access, or rather the lack thereof," Parr said.

During the workshop, city officials made it clear that either a slip ramp or a diamond interchange located between the two existing exits would be supported if pursued. However, Parr said discussions with the Minnesota Department of Transportation quickly shot down the idea of a slip ramp.

"West Point Douglas Road is a road that is controlled by MnDOT," Parr said. "We would need their approval to build a slip ramp. But, the problem with a slip ramp is they will get you in but they won't get you out. We still have an access problem."

Another factor Parr said that hindered the idea of a slip ramp was safety requirements. MnDOT requires specific safety standards be met when an on or off ramp is constructed. The design plans take into consideration the speed of the highway, the location of the ramp, and the length of the exit lane to accommodate for stacked cars during peak travel hours, among others.

"What we're asking for (with the slip ramp) does not meet the safety requirements that MnDOT is requiring," Parr said.

As the city continues to search for an effective solution to the lack of access into the corridor, it also is taking into consideration aesthetics. Maintaining a high level of architectural standard for new buildings was the overarching theme and officials wanted the new look to reflect the positivity of the city.

"Looking at some of the recently developed areas in Cottage Grove, we do want to emulate that look, not necessarily duplicate it," Parr said. "This corridor is a great opportunity for us to cultivate signage and visibility with good architecture."

While the agreed vision for the corridor was an "upper-scale professional business park," city officials said they did not want to see a row of warehouses storing big rigs. Rather, the presence of restaurants, showrooms, storefronts, even light industrial buildings was preferred.

"I think the workshop put into perspective for me that a true retail area would not be the best use of the space," said Myron Bailey, Cottage Grove mayor. "I think we were looking at doing something like business warehouses but with a stricter architecture design to be more aesthetically pleasing along the highway."

Officials also discussed allocating various amounts of money, anywhere from $300,000 to more than $2 million, toward acquiring vacant land along the corridor. Having ownership over the land appealed to several city officials because it would streamline the development process once interested parties arrive, however some felt it was too early to invest.

Parr said the EDA has begun talking to property and land owners along West Point Douglas Road to get more feedback for a report to be given to the city council sometime in the future. With the first steps at reclaiming the promising vision for the corridor behind the city, Parr said there is still a long way to go before bringing any solid plans before the city council.

"I'm very optimistic," Bailey said about finding an economically viable solution. "Right now there is a variety of potential zoning codes that we could use for the corridor. But, if we characterize it as one zone and market it that way I think that will help motivate more people to look at the property."

While city officials agreed that added access points may not completely fix the troubled corridor, fixing up the nearly three-mile stretch of land could have a significantly more positive impact.