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Thomas Avenue Flats redevelopment would contain 51 apartments

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Calvin

After years of being vacant land, and after several doomed ideas, will this housing project finally be a winner?


The long-awaited redevelopment of a shuttered private park property at Thomas Ave. and Simpson St. is finally moving ahead. On Dec. 13 the St. Paul City Council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) approved final financing details for the Thomas Avenue Flats, a $13.6 million, four-story affordable multi-family building with 51 units. Work is expected to get underway in 2018.

Developer MWF Properties won preliminary approval in Aug. 2017 for financing to redevelop the site at 1500 Thomas Ave. MWF is a veteran developer, with 11 developments totaling 1,500 units to its credit in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The company also has been a development consultant on a 529-unit Rochester project. Development company principals include Jay Weis and Erik Weis, owners of Minneapolis-based Weis Builders, a general contractor established in 1939.

MWF has owned the Hamline-Midway site since the summer of 2015. It was owned and maintained for many years prior to that by longtime Midway developers David and Teri Van Landschoot, owners of Justin Properties.

The project needs no zoning changes or variances at this time and had its city staff site plan review last summer. The property was zoned for traditional neighborhood use a few years ago when other mixed-use streets in Hamline-Midway had zoning changes to accommodate future traditional neighborhoods, with higher-density use.

The housing development will include underground parking, an outdoor patio, fitness center, laundry facilities on each floor, bike racks and secure entry. It is within a short walk of the Snelling Ave. Green Line light rail stop and A Line bus service on Snelling.

Outgoing St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development director Jonathan Sage-Martinson said the developers spent many months working on the project and are ready to move ahead. The HRA had given preliminary approvals in August 2017.

On Dec. 13 the HRA allocated up to $1.3 million in HOME loan funds, in the form of a 40-year deferred loan with 2 percent interest. The HRA also approved a conduit revenue bond not to exceed $7.2 million. With a conduit bond issue, the city isn’t liable if there are problems in the future in repaying the bonds. The developers are using a mix of private and public funding to pay for the project. Units in the project will remain affordable for 30 to 40 years.

Seventeen units will have three bedrooms. The rest are a mix of one and two-bedroom units. Rents will range from $848 for a one-bedroom unit to $1,356 for three bedrooms.

Redevelopment by MWF Properties would cap decades of debate over the site, which was once part of the Great Northern, later Samaritan Hospital, complex. The original hospital was built in 1919. The hospital closed in 1987. It was demolished and replaced with townhouses. An office building, Hamline Park Plaza, and a parking ramp remain.

The property at the southwest corner of Thomas and Simpson St. has been open space for many years, developed as the Garden of Poetry sculpture park. But after-dark parties, loitering, trash, and neighborhood complaints prompted the owners to remove most of the sculptures and close the park. David Van Landschoot said at a 2005 city meeting that the family lost money on the park for a decade as they battled problems there.

Different developers worked with Justin Properties on proposals for the property. A 2004 senior condo project was shelved due to lower-than-anticipated presales. A 2005 four-story apartment development, brought forward by the Hamline Park Plaza Partnership, ran up against neighborhood opposition and complaints that a four-story building on the site would be too tall. That project won needed variances but was never built.

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