More investment downtownBuilding on the success of the New York Apartments, MetroPlaines LLP of St. Paul
By: Shelley Nelson, The Daily Telegram
Building on the success of the New York Apartments, MetroPlaines LLP of St. Paul plans to rehabilitate another historic downtown building.
Tonight, the City Council considers assisting with the project. Councilors decide whether to invest $100,000 in Community Development Block Grant money and $100,000 from the economic development fund to assist with purchase and restoration of the building .
The plan includes buying the former Social Security building — known historically as the Washington Block — and converting it to apartments for low- to moderate-income seniors, similar to the New York Block, 1402-1412 Tower Ave.
The project would create 23 new apartments and offer a common area with potential ties to the Superior-Douglas County Senior Center next door, said Port and Planning Director Jason Serck.
“In doing so, they would do a complete historic renovation, very similar to what they did in the New York Building,” said Jeff Vito, development and government affairs director. “As part of that, they’re pursuing tax credits and things of that nature. Because of the success of the New York Building, they thought this was another viable project. The one big difference is there won’t be commercial space in this one. It would just be residential, or at least that’s their plan at this point.”
While the apartments in the New York Block have been very popular since the renovation was completed more than a year ago, the commercial space remains vacant.
The Superior Business Improvement District supports the project, said its director, Kaye Tenerelli.
“It’s another boost in our ability to No. 1, restore historic buildings because that is a historic building restoration,” she said. “No. 2, it will bring life back to the building that has been kind of languishing at best. And it’s going to bring people back to live in downtown. It’s a win-win for us.”
The Washington Block is one of 18 commercial giants constructed in the city between 1888 and 1892. While a few of those major commercial buildings were built on Hammond Avenue and in Superior’s East End business district, 12 were constructed along Tower Avenue, shaping the central business district. Today, seven of those boom-era buildings remain on Tower, including AMSOIL Building (Berkshire), Superior Stove Works (Empire), Badger Building (Maryland), Globe News (New Jersey), Board of Trade (Minnesota), the New York and Washington blocks. Fire or demolition destroyed the Wisconsin, Wemyss (Kresge Building), Watkins and Massachusetts blocks and the West Superior Hotel.
In 2003, it looked like the New York Block would meet a similar fate. It stood boarded up while a task force of city, county and business leaders made a concerted effort to find a developer.
MetroPlaines took on the task. The award-winning company has completed projects in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. Projects have included converting an 1890s school complex into a 32-unit senior apartment complex in Cannon Falls, Minn., and Washington Crossing, the old middle school in Winona, Minn., which now houses 62 apartments, in addition to the New York building.
“We’re very, very happy that MetroPlaines is the company that will be doing it,” Tenerelli said. “They do top-notch work.”
The company paid $40,000 for the New York building and invested more than $4 million on renovations. The city contributed $100,000 to the New York building project.
The planned investment for the Washington Block is about $4.2 million.
“The big difference between this project and that one is they virtually had no cost in acquiring the building,” Vito said. “And this one has a price tag, I think of about $330,000 to $350,000. We looked at it and said we would like to see a historic structure reused and restored.”
Vito said the building has a fair amount of structural problems, such as a facade that is pulling away from the structure.
“The big thing is taking that facade off and revealing what’s under there,” Serck said.
“If it got to the point where it wasn’t reusable and we had to tear it down, we would have — easily — that much money into doing the demolition,” Vito said. “We think it would be a good project. We think the downtown needs some good anchors in it.”
Like the New York Apartments, each unit would include a washer, dryer, dishwasher, microwave, stove and refrigerator, Serck said. They are also seeking tax credits to help pay for the restoration project.
When the company revamped the New York Block, the project benefited from $3.4 million in tax credits, which allowed it to keep rent affordable to low- and moderate-income seniors. Commercial space in the New York is also available at market rates because of the credits.
“They’ve asked us to participate again, and we’ve offered them $200,000,” Serck said. “… This is one thing that we’re hopefully going to do for our downtown.”
Contact Shelley Nelson at (715) 395-5022 or snelson