Drivers speeding past Maple Grove on Interstate 94 pass towering sand mounds and cavernous gravel pits that make up the largest undeveloped area in the city and one of the largest gravel-mining areas in the Twin Cities.
One day, city leaders hope, the 1,100 acres will be transformed into parks, homes, stores and corporate offices. But first, they’re asking for the state’s help.
Maple Grove, which says it would cost $880 million to redevelop that vast area, is asking the state to sign off on the city using extra taxes generated from offices and warehouses to cover $100 million for future streets, sewers and other infrastructure.
But some legislators scoff at that request, saying Maple Grove doesn’t need the extra money, especially after the affluent northwestern suburb already redeveloped hundreds of acres of gravel pits into the Arbor Lakes shopping area.
The Legislature, which adjourns Monday, will see Maple Grove’s request in the omnibus Senate tax bill but not in the House bill, which means it’s unlikely to win approval this year. The city has until Friday to try to persuade policymakers otherwise.
“We’re losing out on business today and losing out on job growth today,” City Administrator Al Madsen said. “I’m very upset and very disappointed by the lack of vision.”
Without the extra tax money, he said, redeveloping the sprawling area will take decades longer. Plus, if Maple Grove’s request and a similar one from Savage aren’t included in the tax bill, it won’t be fair, because the Legislature granted Apple Valley’s gravel redevelopment request this year, he said.
“How do you pick one but not the other two?” he said.
Across the metro, more cities are finding themselves with similar redevelopment opportunities as gravel supplies dwindle, allowing them to turn the land into shopping centers or homes. Edina, Burnsville and Rochester have redeveloped gravel-mining land over the past couple of decades and Apple Valley will be developing a 455-acre gravel site.
“It’s been an unintended way for cities to preserve land for future development,” said Fred Corrigan, executive director of the Aggregate & Ready Mix Association of Minnesota. “Once Maple Grove is finished, we’re pretty much done in the metro area.”
For more than 80 years, Maple Grove’s gravel mines have helped build the numerous highways and roadways across the west metro and Minneapolis. At one time, the gravel pits and quarries covered more than 2,000 acres from Hwy. 169 to Interstate 494.
Then, in the 1990s, the Metropolitan Council requested that the city and landowners put off development to continue to use the gravel for road construction. They agreed.
“Now I think we’re being penalized for being nice people,” Madsen said.
That’s because, now that the gravel has been mined out in some areas, the city and landowners want to sell it to developers. The two companies that own the land, C.S. McCrossan and the Tiller Corp., have agreed to stick with the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for redeveloping the land into industrial and office space, 5,000 homes, parks and retail.
That collaboration has made Maple Grove, nationally, “a model to segue from gravel into reclamation,” said Heather Arends of the state Department of Natural Resources.
But now, the city argues, it needs extra taxes to afford streets and sewers. That’s where tax-increment financing (TIF) comes in. Of 1,100 acres, the city would make 600 acres of it a TIF district for industrial warehouses and offices. Extra tax money generated over 20 years by those new companies would pay part of $100 million in infrastructure such as streets.
Maple Grove Sen. Warren Limmer says some legislators don’t agree with controversial TIF funding because of cities’ past abuse of it. But by including Apple Valley’s TIF request in tax bills, Limmer said, “I think we’re picking favorites.”
The Legislature included Apple Valley’s TIF request this year, which will allow the city to make a 455-acre site a TIF district to help pay for roads, stormwater management and other utilities. Burnsville also got TIF district approval in 2008 for restoring land and installing infrastructure.
But in Maple Grove, “I’m not sure the state has a lot of sympathy for them that they need help with this,” Corrigan said.
Madsen said it’s a misconception that the affluent city can afford the redevelopment. He said the Arbor Lakes area was easier to develop years ago as retail in a better economy. The two gravel firms, he added, will pay for restoring the land before selling it. “It’s so important for legislators to know this is not a giveaway,” he said.
If legislators don’t change their minds, he vows to be back at the State Capitol next year.
“The potential of that gravel mining area is huge,” he said. “We feel the best is yet to come.”
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141