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Wabash development dropped; Historic Places nomination moving forward

Posted on 06 August 2018 by Calvin

An ambitious proposal to redevelop a century-old West Midway meat packing plant at 2103 Wabash Ave. into apartments has been shelved.

But, the property still is eligible for historic designation and possible use of low-income housing tax credits for a future developer. The St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) July 26 reviewed a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the property. The report goes to the State Historic Preservation Office. State review is another step in the designation process, which can take several months.

The HPC and its staff provided comments on the report, which was commissioned by the previous development team. The report, which is almost 60 pages long, gives an overview of the history of livestock slaughter and meat packing at the site.

Photo right: Industrial neighbors objected to the rezoning of 2103 Wabash Ave. to allow residential use. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

HPC comments on the report were generally favorable, with most focus on the building design. HPC members noted it’s remarkable that there was a meat packing plant operating in the middle of the city until the late 1970s.

The meatpacking plant, located on the Wabash Ave. rail spur of the Minnesota Transfer Railway Company was originally built as the Henry G. Haas Slaughterhouse in 1886. The slaughterhouse operated as the Midway Abattoir from 1898 to 1927. The Superior Packing Company purchased it in 1928 and began plant upgrades. While the original wood frame slaughterhouse is gone, many early parts of the plant remain.

But how historic designation would be used by a new developer remains unclear. The property has long been a challenge for redevelopment. It is zoned for industrial use but has sat largely vacant since 1979. Its first floor in recent years has housed uses including pet boarding, guitar repair, and industrial tire sales and service.

The oldest part of the building dates from 1886. It was added to in 1911, 1928 and 1947. Different roof and floor heights pose one challenge for redevelopment. Sections range from one to three stories in height. Another challenge is that the building fills much of the property.

Previous developer Superior LLC obtained a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission in February to convert the largely vacant structure into 64 apartments. The developers had hoped to start work in June. One wrinkle in the project was their desire to seek historic designation and use state and federal historic tax credits. Changes to the tax credits were made at the federal level this summer, which affects how developers can finance projects.

The conditional permit approved was to generally allow residential use in an industrial area. It allowed more than six dwelling units on an industrially zoned property. Plans called for 39 dwelling units on the first floor. Typically, when residential uses are allowed in an industrial area, those are on upper floors.

The permit also allowed 90 percent of the first floor to have residential use. Typically, 80 percent of the first floor would be for non-residential uses.

But in the face of opposition, the conditional use permit request was withdrawn in the spring.

That means a new developer will have to start over once a proposal is developed.

Preserving industrial land versus allowing the apartments to go ahead was an issue debated at length by the Planning Commission Zoning Committee in the spring. One concern was the rezoning of the industrial property.

But the St. Paul Port Authority and Midway Chamber of Commerce spoke for the apartment project, noting that an appropriate new industrial use for the site hasn’t been found. The Zoning Committee and full commission opted to approve a conditional use permit and allow the underlying industrial zoning to remain.

Future site neighbor American Engineering Testing (AET) appealed the conditional use permit in the spring. AET recently purchased the former Rihm Kenilworth truck facility at the southwest corner of Cleveland and University avenues, 567 Cleveland Ave. and 2108 University Ave. The testing firm is expanding and would move its drilling and other services to the site.

In the appeal, AET pointed out that Superior LLC’s project would put apartments very close to its planned new facility, raising the potential for complaints about living next to a busy testing facility. AET has raised concerns about having its operations fall under residential noise limits. Off-street parking and pedestrian safety near busy streets and two rail lines were other noted concerns. The Wabash property lacks sidewalks on all four sides.

Minnesota Commercial Railway, 508 N. Cleveland Ave., also weighed in against the conditional use permit and apartments proposal. The company operates a short line railway in the Twin Cities, including tracks adjacent to the Wabash site, which services the West­Rock paper recycling plant.

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