Alatus plans apartments on Wilder land

– Finance & Commerce

A developer thinks it has the right apartment project for a long-vacant lot on St. Paul’s Lexington Parkway, but neighborhood leaders want to see more affordable housing added to the plan.

Minneapolis-based Alatus has proposed a 226-unit mixed-use building on a roughly 2-acre site at 411 and 417 Lexington Parkway North, which is immediately east of and owned by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. It’s a block south of a Green Line light rail station and a block north of Interstate 94, and also straddles the line between the commercial district around Allianz Field to the west and the Summit-University residential areas to the east, Alatus Director of Development Chris Osmundson said.

“With the light rail being there, there’s obviously a strong draw for housing being in that corridor,” Osmundson said in an interview. “A very strong draw to that area is there’s a very large cultural diversity component, and we view that as important.”

Local neighborhood groups — the property is in Union Park but sits at the intersection of four district councils — agree the property is a great place to build housing, but worry the project as planned will price out many of the residents who make up that cultural diversity.

In community presentations, Alatus has laid out two options: an entirely market-rate housing component to subsidize a 4,500-square-foot lower-price commercial space on the south side of the building for a community based-tenant, or a plan with six to 12 affordable apartments at 40% or 60% of the area median income, but with parking or market-rate commercial space instead. Both plans include a second, larger commercial bay on the north side that Alatus is envisioning as a grocery store or similar use.

Community feedback has stressed the need for more affordable housing in the area, said Brandon Long, executive director of the Union Park District Council. Even the few affordable units included in Alatus’ proposal would be out of reach for many local residents, he said.

“When they say affordable, they mean 60% AMI, which works out to $1,000 a month for a 400-square-foot efficiency, which is not affordable,” Long said.

The Frogtown Neighborhood Association, immediately northeast of the site, has also been pushing both Alatus and the Wilder Foundation for more affordability, Co-Director Caty Royce said in an interview. The association’s board wrote to the Foundation earlier this year with concerns about what it saw as a missed opportunity, she said.

“Our position is that Wilder could, should, have put affordability requirements on the purchase agreement,” Royce said. “They had the chance to do that, actually the obligation, is our position. Wilder’s mission and values line up with seeing we have an increase of affordable housing with the crisis we have now, and that wasn’t done.”

At least one development team has previously tried to do just that. Marlton, New Jersey-based Michaels Development Co. and Minneapolis-based CPM Cos. pitched a 243-unit affordable project for the site in 2016, but that deal never came to fruition. The Wilder Foundation has been seeking a buyer for the site since 2009 to free up resources for its programs and outreach, spokesperson Andy Brown said in an email.

“Wilder accepted Alatus’ proposal based on their experience with multifamily housing and their commitment to community involvement as integral to their process,” Brown said, noting the need for affordable housing production goes beyond any specific property. “Wilder supports housing stability in our community by providing services that help prevent homelessness for youth, single adults and families. Funds from the sale of the property will help fuel these necessary resources.”

Osmundson acknowledged the concerns about affordability, but said the area has a need for all types of housing, including market-rate rentals.

“We’ve heard [requests for] affordability, we’ve also heard from lots of the immediate neighbors that there’s too much affordability, and it’s affecting the housing values of the places they live,” he said.

Alatus’ project is expected to cost about $60 million, Osmundson said, and the company hopes to break ground in the first quarter of 2020. ESG is designing the project, but no contractor has yet been named. The company is asking the City Council on Wednesday to support its application for a transit-oriented development grant from the Metropolitan Council.

By: William Morris
Date: Aug 7, 2019
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