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Hamline University decides it will tear down 1549 Minnehaha

Posted on 09 April 2019 by Calvin

A Hamline University plan to demolish 1549 Minnehaha Ave. after five years’ discussions, and a proposal to make changes to the Hamline University Neighborhood Advisory Committee (HUNAC) are prompting objections and questions in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.

Some neighbors are asking if the demolition, approved by the HU Trustees and revealed at the March HUNAC meeting, signals a move toward the more aggressive university teardown policies that roiled Hamline-Midway neighborhood several years ago. Other questions raised are if the university is walking away from its role with HUNAC.

The next HUNAC meeting at 6pm, Mon., Apr. 15, is to be a working meeting of representatives from stakeholder groups to discuss the future of HUNAC and whether the group becomes part of Hamline Midway Coalition.

HU spokesperson Christine Weeks said outstanding questions would also be addressed at that meeting.

Weeks said a possible change in HUNAC structure is eyed because from the university’s perspective the district council is seen as having more direct access to neighborhood residents. She described a potential role for HMC as a “conduit.”

Photo right: The house at 1549 Minnehaha Ave. has been approved for demolition by the Hamline University Board of Trustees. The University said that they do not believe that the house is of significant historic value, and that it is in a state of disrepair that leaves no option but to be torn down. (Photo from the Monitor’s 2015 archives)

HUNAC was launched by the University, neighborhood and city leaders in response to the university’s teardown of houses it owns outside of its campus boundaries and the demolition of the White House on-campus (2014). It was modeled after the West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee (WSNAC), which was set up more than a decade ago as a response to longtime tensions between the University of St. Thomas and its neighbors. WSNAC is funded by St. Thomas, which also provides web hosting and staffing.

Some neighbors want to see if there is still a chance to save the house. But university officials’ minds are made up. A press release sent out by the university stated that the school’s board of trustees approved an administration recommendation that the house be demolished. “The Hamline University Board of Trustees approved a recommendation to demolish a university-owned property at 1549 Minnehaha Ave. in St. Paul,” the press release stated. “The property was purchased by the school in 2014. The structure is in significant disrepair and not of a historic nature.”

“It’s common for universities to seek to own properties next to campus to allow for evolution and change,” said Jeff Papas, Hamline director of communications, in the press release. “Hamline hosted and participated in community discussions on the property for a number of years and helped to facilitate a historic survey of the neighborhood.”

The press release went on to state “Since 2015, Hamline has invited and received suggestions for the use of the property, but no proposal included a viable and sustainable source of funding.” It also went on to state that the university is in a strategic planning process and that potential uses for the site are being explored.

“Hamline is a vibrant campus that’s been part of the wonderful Hamline Midway community for well over 150 years,” said Papas. “We look forward to continuing our dialogue with our neighbors.”

Leaders from the group Historic Hamline Village (HHV) couldn’t attend the March meeting, so members of that group felt blindsided by the demolition decision. Some question whether HU’s actions are a “demolition by neglect” by letting the house sit for so long without attention.

The dispute over the house is likely to draw in other groups, including Save Our St. Paul Neighborhoods and the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission. The HPC staff is already looking into the matter. Recently a study was done to take first steps toward at a potential historic district in the neighborhood.

HHV leader Roy Neal said the decision to demolish feels sudden in light of more than five years’ work. One option that had previously won HU support was that of a “rehab lab” where classes on home improvements could be offered. HU approved the rehabilitation lab option in fall 2018. It was designed in partnership with the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. Neal said the lab was purposely created to address university concerns and is still on the table pending further discussions with the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections. The lab idea also had support from former Ward Four Council Member Russ Stark.

But Weeks said the university has been transparent during its years of discussions about the house. Ideas were solicited, but none came to fruition.



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