Menards may not rebuild its Brooklyn Park store after all.
In December the home improvement retailer asked the Brooklyn Park City Council to approve a $10 million project to tear down the Menards on County Road 81 and replace it with a two-story model approximately twice the size. The rebuilt store was expected to employ an additional 100 workers.
The council originally voted 5-2 to approve the project on first reading, with council members Mike Trepanier and Rich Gates dissenting. When the project came back to the council for a second reading — a confirmation vote required for final approval — the council changed its mind and put the project on hold. It’s unclear whether it will move forward.
City Manager Jamie Verbrugge and other staff expressed concern in December because the proposal required numerous variances from city code to accommodate such a large structure on a relatively small lot. In exchange for those variances, staff asked Menards to upgrade the external appearance but was unsatisfied with Menards’ offers.
The originally proposed model was made almost entirely of gray, precast concrete panels, and the final product was expected to look like the Golden Valley Menards. Staff preferred to see a higher quality exterior, such as the all-brick front featured at the Richfield Menards. But the company said it couldn’t justify that expense based on Brooklyn Park sales.
Members of both the planning commission and city council seemed to have reservations about the project and wanted more time to negotiate and find a compromise. Menards, which had asked the city to expedite its usual approval process, said if the council didn’t approve the project before the end of 2012, the company didn’t know if the rebuild would happen.
Despite complaining about feeling pressured, the council initially approved the project with a few changes the planning commission had recommended. The primary change was adding a 4-foot strip of concrete blocks with simulated brick patterns at the base of the wall to break up the appearance of the building.
When the council revisited the issue Jan. 28, the composition of the council had changed, and some members had changed their minds.
Since the December meeting, Councilmember John Jordan replaced Councilmember Dean Heng. Jordan said the council made a mistake in approving the project but saw the second vote as a chance to rectify the error.
Jordan said he wants to see Menards rebuilt, but he stressed city codes and standards matter and must be taken seriously. Standards provide consistency, he said. They let developers and staff know what to expect. Without clear standards and policies, staff would be unable to negotiate effectively to bring quality developments to the city, Jordan said.
“It puts our staff in a weak position, and that’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to us,” he said
Echoing the concerns Verbrugge and Trepanier expressed in December, Jordan also argued that giving up too much to Menards without sufficient compromise would set a bad precedent for other developers, especially in light of the redevelopment expected to take place on County Road 81 in coming years.
“In my opinion, putting a bland, boring warehouse building that none of us here really want, that’s something that doesn’t meet our codes, just doesn’t make any sense,” Jordan said. “… With … significant compromises (from the city), our staff asked for a better design and was told ‘no.’ Worse than being told ‘no,’ we were given a take-it-or-leave-it deadline.”
Jordan indicated he would support a compromise that left the sides and back of the structure untouched but upgraded the appearance of the front. He said most of the residents he spoke with agreed the city could do better than the plan originally approved.
Gates and Trepanier agreed with Jordan.
Gates emphasized the “artificial deadline” set by Menards.
“If we don’t have time to actually sit down and discuss something, as staff and as council, I will not be bullied,” he said.
He also pointed out the city required a lot of the nearby Walmart when it asked to rebuild.
Trepanier emphasized that he wants Menards to rebuild but feels the city “just gave away the store” after the planning commission has worked hard to set standards.
“One of the things … I’ve come to believe very deeply, when it comes to development and redevelopment, is don’t panic, because then you settle for less than what you should have,” Trepanier said.
Councilmember Elizabeth Knight, originally voted in favor of the project, but said she changed her mind “for the simple reasons of talking to staff and understanding that we do need to be consistent, and we do need to get benefits for our community.”
Councilmember Peter Crema had also supported the plan in December with some reservations, but he said now he was on the fence after driving by the Golden Valley and Richfield stores and comparing the two.
“If this is a $10 million project, I’m not trying to suggest to Menards it’s got to be a $15 million project,” Crema said. “But maybe it’s something we could sit down and talk about over the next couple of weeks while this is tabled, and bring it back and see if there can be some compromise. … I don’t care about the color. I’m looking more along the lines of this is going to be a 40-year or a 30-year footprint in the city …”
Councilmember Bob Mata and Mayor Jeffrey Lunde stood by their original support for the project.
Mata said the project would be good for the city.
“I don’t know if they can do anything with the front and make it look nicer or not, but if they don’t, I’d still support it,” Mata said.
“I’m never the one to look at the exterior,” Lunde said. “…I won’t even act like I know what looks nice. … I guess I’m ready to move on the project and hopefully get that kind of investment, which I think has value.”
Menards representative Tyler Edwards said the company wouldn’t budge.
“After extended discussions with you guys last month, there’s nothing more I can really say,” Edwards told the council. “… When people ask why there’s no new Menards store, we can tell them we tabled it. I can come in once a week for the next two years, and unless you guys get your citizens to shop at the store more, (there’s) probably not a lot more compromise we’re willing to make.”
The council voted 5-1 to table the issue until Feb. 19 or 25 at staff discretion. Lunde dissented.
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