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Former Knox building in Newport to be condemned as transit project moves forward

Washington County commissioners have cleared the way for the county's Housing and Redevelopment Authority to begin leading the charge to remake an industrial corner of south Washington County around a future transit center.

Commissioners approved the condemnation of a long-vacant Knox Lumber building and a measure amending the county's redevelopment plan last week, advancing plans to redevelop an 11-acre site on Maxwell Avenue near Interstate 494 and Highway 61 that officials say will act as a transit-oriented gateway to Washington County.

The county is scheduled next summer to build a 1,200-square-foot, climate-controlled transit center with 200 parking spaces for commuters using a St. Paul-bound express bus route on the site at 2222 Maxwell Ave.

Barbara Dacy, director of the Washington County HRA, said last week commissioners' actions meant the HRA could start working in earnest to begin acquiring land and luring developers to the neighborhood officials have dubbed the Red Rock Gateway Area, in reference to the mass transit corridor that runs along Highway 61.

Dacy told board members the HRA has already completed a market study on the roughly 40-acre redevelopment area, completed a land use analysis, laid out redevelopment guidelines and met with private developers to spark interest in the area.

The redevelopment effort will bring "increased tax base, job growth, new housing stock and upgrading of infrastructure" in Newport, she told commissioners.

Tax increment financing, or TIF -- an instrument government entities use to re-invest long-term increases in tax revenue to help fund near-term infrastructure improvements in a designated area -- is needed, Dacy said, because of the high anticipated cost of property acquisition and infrastructure improvements.

TIF dollars won't, however, be the only source of funding for infrastructure improvements and land acquisition costs, Dacy said. The HRA, she said, is also aggressively seeking grants.

The county will have to establish the area as a TIF district at a later date, Dacy said, ""when there is a specific project anticipated."

Washington County purchased the property in 2010 and planners included the site in a comprehensive station area planning study for the proposed Red Rock Corridor commuter rail line. Initially, the park and ride will cater to commuter bus riders, officials say, but in the future would be a stop along the commuter rail line.

No date has been set for the Knox building removal.