COVER STORY, MAY 2006

FINDING ITS GROVE
Opus Northwest has created an expansive town center in Maple Grove, Minnesota, that continues to grow.
Kevin Jeselnik

The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes, which is located in the Arbor Lakes mixed-use community in Maple Grove, Minnesota, was the first lifestyle center to be developed in the Twin Cities area.

Approximately 10 years ago, Opus Northwest acquired 450 acres within a 2,000-acre gravel mine in Maple Grove, Minnesota, with plans to develop a much-needed retail project in the northwestern section of the Twin Cities metro area. The first development, completed in 1996, was Maple Grove Crossing, a 300,000-square-foot traditional power center featuring Kohl’s, Barnes & Noble and Bed, Bath & Beyond. The project was a major draw from the start and led Opus Northwest to seek out greater development opportunities on the site. During the past decade, the company has developed approximately 2.4 million square feet of retail on site, along with additional civic, office, medical office and residential facilities.

“When we started out in 1996, we never really thought we would have that much retail there,” says Tim Murnane, senior vice president at Opus Northwest.

“It’s really a unique piece of property; it’s located in the northwest quadrant, so it serves as a major hub for that submarket of the metro area,” he adds. “But, also what is unique is that it’s the first major city in upstate Minnesota.” This convergence of markets, drawing the northern metro consumers as well as shoppers from the upstate region, has made the Arbor Lakes community a huge attraction for consumers and retailers alike.

Coming off of the success of Maple Grove Crossing, Opus decided to develop another 500,000 square feet of power center retail on the site. According to Murnane, it was at this point that the city of Maple Grove became more involved and the overall project really took off. “That was when the city came to us and said, ‘We want to create a downtown.’ They wanted to create something that was more than a traditional strip power center,” he says. “That’s when we sat down with the city planner and the land owners and looked into creating something unique.”

Opus Northwest is developing the approximately 650,000-square-foot Fountains at Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Tenants will include Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse and Circuit City.

The team came up with a master plan for the 450-acre community, officially named Arbor Lakes, starting with the first phase, The Main Street of Arbor Lakes. The Main Street project integrated more than 500,000 square feet of retail into a street-grid design featuring two-story retail and office buildings along the roads with larger format big box retailers surrounding the smaller properties. The nine street-front buildings, the last of which was completed in 2004, created a downtown focal point for the residents of Maple Grove and brought an upscale, vibrant feel to Arbor Lakes. Retailers occupying space on Main Street include Ann Taylor Loft, Christopher & Banks, Chico’s and Panera Bread, while big box tenants such as Toys “R” Us, Linens ‘n Things, Best Buy and the upscale regional grocer Byerly’s are among the tenants of the larger, surrounding buildings.

The dialogue with the city and the subsequent design of the master plan lead Opus to develop an identity and brand for Arbor Lakes, and consistent signage and landscaping can be seen throughout the site. When the Main Streets of Arbor Lakes was completed in 1999, Opus sought to develop more pedestrian friendly retail on the site, which lead to the development of Minnesota’s first lifestyle center, The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes. “We were hearing from retailers that were very impressed with the sales numbers, so we were able to put together a plan to create a lifestyle center, and the natural location for that to occur was where we had already developed in Arbor Lakes,” Murnane says.

The $75 million, 412,000-square-foot lifestyle center, which Opus co-developed with RED Development, was completed in 2003 and features a roster of upscale retailers including Abercrombie & Fitch, Coldwater Creek, Express, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and Yankee Candle. The Shoppes’ 53-acre site features a spacious courtyard that is able to host outdoor diving venues and civic gatherings, as wells as a $10 million transit center with parking for approximately 900 cars that the city of Maple Grove owns and operates. That devotion to the inclusion of civic elements has established Arbor Lakes and Opus as distinctive and responsible contributors to the Maple Grove community. Among the many other civic developments on the 450-acre site are a new city hall, a police substation and a $10 million community center featuring a fitness center. Opus is also looking for potential sites on which the city can build a public library.

The final, 56,000-square-foot building of The Main Street of Arbor Lakes was completed in July of 2004 and includes tenants such as American Express, Planet Beach and Country Glazed Hams.

The newest project, the $100 million Fountains at Arbor Lakes, is underway on 90 acres and is scheduled to be complete in the fall. “It is sort of like the first phase of Arbor Lakes,” Murnane explains. “We haven’t recreated Main Street, but we do have approximately 60,000 square feet of smaller, two-story buildings with office above retail, and we have approximately 600,000 square feet of traditional power center tenants.” Costco, Dick’s Clothing and Sporting Goods, REI, Marshall’s, Circuit City and Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse are among the anchor tenants for the Fountains.

As part of Opus’ continuing efforts to enhance the Arbor Lakes community and diversify the options presented to its customers, the Fountains will include some unique wrinkles. The Twin Cities’ first Dave & Buster’s entertainment facility will be developed as part of the project, as will two hotels, the first hospitality components to be constructed in Arbor Lakes. One of the hotels will be under the Holiday Inn flag, and will feature an indoor waterpark; the other will be a Marriott brand.

“We always try to make our projects unique and we try to bring something to them that is not already in the community,” Murnane says of the Fountains project. “From the lineup of tenants to the architectural elements, you definitely know when you are driving in that this is something very different, very unique from a traditional power center.”

While Opus and the rest of the team may not have envisioned such an expansive and diverse mixed-use community when the development began a decade ago, the consumer and retailer demand is evidence that Arbor Lakes is filling a void that greatly needed to be addressed. The continuous expansion has been fueled by “the momentum and strong sales that the restaurants and retailers are experiencing,” Murnane notes. “Again, [Arbor Lakes] really serves two markets; it serves as the dominant retail market for the northwest quadrant of the metro area and it is the first major retail hub as you come in from upstate Minnesota. With more than 2 million square feet of retail, this is the largest concentration of retail anywhere in the metro area with the exception of the Mall of America, so it’s a destination location.”

Throughout the life of the project, the city and the landowners have remained important teammates. “I think the biggest challenge was making sure that we were listening to the city and understanding their needs, and marrying those needs with the demands of today’s retailers and restaurants,” Murnane says. “We had landowners that were willing to look at the big picture instead of just selling to the highest bidder.”

With the Fountains at Arbor Lakes approximately 83 percent pre-leased, expect Opus to continue to build on the success of what Murnane calls its “city within a city” in Maple Grove.



©2006 France Publications, Inc. Duplication or reproduction of this article not permitted without authorization from France Publications, Inc. For information on reprints of this article contact Barbara Sherer at (630) 554-6054.




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