St. Paul city leaders hope a vacant lot can be transformed — and the hunt is on for a developer who can do it

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For two decades, the lot has sat vacant, except for some overgrown grass, graffiti, and concrete parking barriers.

But now — perhaps a new beginning for the site, at 1570 White Bear Avenue in St. Paul.

“It’s a little bit of an eyesore sometimes,” says Shawna Beisang, who lives next door. “It would be nice to have something a little better there.”

The St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority is looking for someone to buy the two-acre lot, now valued at $1.3-million — and to build residential housing and/or a commercial space on it.

“My hope is sometime in the next year we’re going to be able to see some sort of development happening here,” says Ward 6 Council Member Nelsie Yang. “What’s going to be so important for this lot, is to be able to incorporate housing and commercial businesses as well.”

The Hillcrest Bowling and Entertainment Center, once here, is long gone, demolished by the city back in 2003.

About the only businesses remaining are the food trucks that park alongside.

Bryant Chacon says his family has operated their truck here since 2014.

He says an apartment building, with shops on the first floor, would bring more potential customers to the area.

“I’d prefer if they had a few shops there,” he declares. “I think if they decided to just do apartments, I feel like there’s not going to be opportunities for small businesses like us, or other food trucks, so we’d like shops.”

The city says as many as 19,000 cars drive along this section of White Bear Avenue every day.

Stephanie Henderson says that’s a reflection of how busy the area is — and a sign of how urgently the neighborhood needs a full-fledged food store.

“A little bit of a food desert,” she explains. “A grocery store would be really nice, I think. A proper one. We have the bodega down there and a dollar store, but a real grocery store within walking distance.”

Yang says she hopes any mixed-use proposals will include affordable housing and places to eat or purchase food.

“A place where community members can come together, have meetings, have a place to play,” she notes. “And for it to close a food desert on White Bear Avenue that’s been around a very long time.”

Yang says any development offers must be submitted to the city by Dec. 2.

She says the city’s economic and development team will consider factors that include proposed use, the cost of a project, and how much tax revenue would be generated.

The team will also look into whether a developer has engaged with the community, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

Yang says the city council will have to approve the choice of developer — and if one is selected, construction could begin as early as next year.

Right now, of course, these are all just ideas.

But Beisang says she has high hopes the lot can be transformed into something much better.

“Affordable housing, everybody’s equal opportunity, I feel for everybody,” she explains. “Businesses, people have an income to make, and I think anything in this community would thrive more than just having an empty lot.”