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School opens in former Rainbow; senior housing, grocery store coming

Posted on 21 November 2017 by calvin

Wellington Management expands reach from west side of Hiawatha to east with 6-acre Minnehaha Crossing project

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
The former Rainbow Foods, 2912 28th Ave. S., is being reincarnated as a mixed-use building anchored by a school.

The Universal Academy Charter School (UACS) moved into the building in time for the start of the 2017-2018 school year. The K-8 school is located in temporary classrooms at the front of the building as landlord Wellington Management Company oversees a 19,600-square-foot second-story addition for classroom space on the back side of the building. To accommodate the addition, a single-family home on the property was torn down.

When it is complete, the school will have 31 classrooms and 55,000 square feet, with an entrance on the east side of 29th Ave.

“Our team is excited to redefine the backside of a big box retail center with a light-filled school where students will learn, play and grow,” said Wellington Management Director of Acquisitions and Development David Wellington.

Photo right: The former Rainbow Foods site has been mostly vacant since the grocery store closed in 2014. It had been purchased by Jerry’s Enterprises as part of a 27-store deal that reshaped the Twin Cities grocery scene. The building and 6-acre lot were purchased by Wellington two years later for $5.35 million, according to Hennepin County records. Universal Academy Charter School moved into temporary classrooms in time to start the 2017-18 school year. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Built in 1984, Rainbow Foods closed in 2014 after it was purchased by Jerry’s Enterprises as part of a 27-store deal that reshaped the Twin Cities grocery scene. The building and 6-acre lot were purchased by Wellington two years later for $5.35 million, according to Hennepin County records.
Universal Academy served 288 students at its St. Paul location in the Midway neighborhood last year. This year, the school added another kindergarten class for a total enrollment target of 338 students.

Photo left: “Our team is excited to redefine the backside of a big box retail center with a light-filled school where students will learn, play and grow,” said Wellington Management Director of Acquisitions and Development David Wellington. (Illustration courtesy of Wellington Management)

Formed in 2014, UACS was originally slated to be located in Minneapolis, but ended up in St. Paul, according to Principal and Director Ms. Farhiya Einte. Most of the students live in Minneapolis.

Ninety-eight percent of students at the charter school are English language learners, according to Minnesota’s Report Card on the school. Its authorizer is Novation Education Opportunities.

‘Golden opportunity’ for Wellington
The Minnehaha Crossing project continues the efforts of Wellington that began more than a decade ago with projects such as Hi-Lake Shopping Center, the Greenway Office Building, Corridor Flats, Lake Street Station, and the Blue Line Flats.

Photo left: The three-prong Minnehaha Crossing project at the six-acre property along Minnehaha Ave. includes a two-story addition on the west side for a school, the renovation of the east side of the empty Rainbow building for a grocery store, and the construction of a 90-unit senior affordable housing building. (Illustration courtesy of Wellington Management)

The largest landowner and developer in the Hi-Lake market, Wellington Management’s work in the area began with the purchase of the Hi-Lake Shopping Center in 2004, recalled Wellington, whose father considered it a “golden opportunity.”

He added, “It was a good fit for our company. We saw a lot of potential for development.” It was a strategic decision to become invested in the area. Since “we’ve really enjoyed our work in the neighborhood,” said Wellington, age 35, who plans to work at the company another 30-40 years and continue the civic-minded approach his father has taken.

Photo right: A 19,600-square-foot second-story addition is currently under construction on the back side of the former Rainbow Foods building. When it is complete, Universal Academy Charter School will have 31 classrooms and 55,000 square feet, with an entrance on the east side off 29th Ave. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Through the years, the family-run company has doubled the density at the original site, first by building Corridor Flats, which houses Aldi’s and 36 market-rate condos. Then they erected the Lake Street Station building next to the light rail line in 2015, which provides 64 units of senior affordable housing. Rates are federally regulated and set at 60% of the area median income, or roughly $900-$1,200 a month.

Last year, Wellington built Blue Line Flats in the Corcoran triangle off 32nd St., offering 135 units of workforce housing at 30%, 50%, and 60% of the area median income.

The Minnehaha Crossing project marks the first time the Wellington Group has embarked on a project to the west of Hiawatha.

“We’re just trying to be your friendly neighborhood developer,” said Wellington.

Grocery store coming
Taken together, the Rainbow site, Cub land, and Target property represent the second largest piece of continuous asphalt in the city of Minneapolis, pointed out Wellington. The city’s plans for the area call for greater density due to the light rail line, which Wellington Management has focused on providing as it redevelops the area.

The addition for Universal Academy is phase one of a three-prong project.

In the second stage of the Minnehaha Crossing project, the existing retail that currently fronts the parking lot along Minnehaha Ave. will be repositioned. This will include approximately 12,000 square feet of small shop retail, as well as a 22,000-square-foot grocery store. Work on this will begin after the school moves into the finished addition, likely in the summer of 2018.

They have been in discussions with Aldi, which has tossed around the idea of a new concept store focusing on high-quality meat and fresh fruits and vegetables at the site, remarked Wellington, but nothing has been finalized yet, and they continue to market the site to a variety of grocery stores.

Wellington does not own Schooner Tavern, just north of the Rainbow building at 2901 27th Ave. S. and it is not part of this project.

Affordable senior housing in the project mix
Stage three includes the construction of a mixed-use building on the northwest corner of the parking lot. It will have 90 units of affordable housing for seniors, and 15,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level. This portion of the project is behind schedule as Wellington Management works to put the financial pieces together to make it affordable.

“It takes a village to get an affordable housing project off the ground,” observed Wellington, but the company believes it is an important piece of the total development, particularly in light of the broader discussion on affordable housing in the city.

Wellington envisions that seniors who currently live in Seward and Longfellow will move into this building and stay in their neighborhood, shopping at the places they’ve always shopped at.

While Wellington Management tried to purchase the Auto Zone property at the corner of E. Lake and Minnehaha, the property owners were not interested in selling. So they signed a long-term agreement with Wendy’s to remain there for 20 years, and have plans to construct a single-story 3,500-square-foot retail building in the existing parking lot area not being used by Wendy’s along Minnehaha.

While two new buildings will use up some of the parking currently available at the site, Wellington believes there will still be enough parking there. He pointed out that parking, as well as the perception of adequate parking, is important to their retail tenants, and one of their primary concerns.

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