by Joni Astrup
Downtown Elk River saw some significant events unfold in 2012.
Two key buildings were sold and are being revitalized, two other buildings were demolished and an enhanced parking lot built, and a long-range plan for the greater downtown area came to fruition.
Plus, the city bought a piece of riverfront property near downtown that it has long coveted for a park.
Together, all this downtown activity has been chosen by the Star News staff as the top story of the year.
The Bluffs is sold
One of the most significant developments involved The Bluffs of Elk River — the four-story building with prime vistas of the Mississippi.
The building was completed in 2007 but never really took off.
Granite Shores LLC, of which Jim Soderberg is the chief manager, purchased the building for $5.125 million from Minnwest Bank in April. The property had gone through foreclosure several years ago and was languishing with many empty condos as well as some vacant commercial space.
Soderberg described it as “kind of a ghost building.” Now, however, he said it is full of activity.
The 67 condo units have all been converted to upscale apartments and are full. Soderberg estimates 100–120 people are living there.
In the first-floor commercial space, he said they are close to some deals.
A company called CAD (Center for Advanced Design) has already located there and is looking at expanding. In addition, five executive offices and a conference room were just completed on the first floor this past week. The Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors met in the conference room last week — the first group to use it, Soderberg said. The offices are available for rent.
Soderberg said the project, which has been renamed Granite Shores, has gone from being dead in the water to having some excitement surrounding it.
“There’s action going on and I think that action really breeds a lot of momentum,” he said.
Here’s a recap of other downtown developments in 2012:
•The city demolished two buildings along Main Street in January and installed a parking lot with enhancements. The farmers market moved from Westbound Liquor to the new lot in June.
•Elk River Lutheran bought the former First National Bank building, which was vacant, in March.
•A prime piece of riverfront park land that the city’s parks and recreation commission has had its eye on for years was reeled in during 2012. The city closed on the purchase of the 26-acre Bailey Point in November. The point is located just west of downtown and will open to the public next spring as a nature preserve-type park.
•A long-range plan laying out a vision for the greater downtown area was completed in 2012.
A culmination of years of effort
Elk River Housing and Redevelopment Chairman Stewart Wilson called the year’s developments downtown “kind of a culmination of lots of years of different efforts.”
He sees more people and activities downtown and said progress has been made.
Take Granite Shores, for instance.
Originally intended to contain 67 owner-occupied condos, Wilson said the market changed and that didn’t pan out. But after the new buyer converted the condos to apartments, tenants have filled them.
“It’s providing wonderful housing for a lot of people,” Wilson said. “People are just quietly living their lives in the downtown area, which is what it was intended to be.”
He said they are still in the initial stages of absorbing what that will mean to downtown. Also still to unfold is assimilating Elk River Lutheran into downtown.
Wilson sees the church as a positive development. The beauty of a church there is it brings people downtown at otherwise quiet times like Sundays, he said.
“The more activity and the more people that there are downtown, all the better. It creates a lot of vibrancy and vitality,” Wilson said.
Meanwhile, Wendy Simenson, co-owner of Kemper Drug, sees the sale of Granite Shores as an important, positive development for downtown. Soderberg has not only been strongly marketing the project, but helping market downtown, too, she said.
“He’s really marketing that property and he has good people working for him,” Simenson said. “That’s definitely been a positive impact on downtown.”
The farmers market and the concert series have also both been good for downtown, she said.
In general, Simenson said there is more traffic downtown and the economy seems to be improving.
“You just see more people around,” she said.