Former nursing home, long-vacant, gets revamped

The three-story former nursing home will be re-purposed into 70 affordable apartment units, and could open as soon as January 2014. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

At 324 Johnson Parkway sits a giant, unused building, that was once a nursing home. The site’s been empty for more than four years.

But that may change in short order. A developer is making a move to convert the property into 70 inexpensive apartment units.

And a $719,400 grant will help them do so -- the Metropolitan Council gave them the funds in order to get rid of asbestos that’s covering the interiors from floor to ceiling. It also helps remove lead-based paint and mercury from the building.

“We were surprised at the amount of contaminants,” said Jim Lavalle, owner of TJL Development Corporation, the project’s developer.

The sum will help keep the 70 new apartments cheap for tenants, said LaValle. He said apartments will cost under $1 per square foot. This would mean a 2-bedroom unit, at about 750 square feet, would cost $750 a month or less in rent, he said.

Without the funds it would have been closer to $1.20 or $1.25 a foot, he added.

The Metropolitan Council trumpets the grant as a way to get the building back on the tax roll.

Abatement “helps to take the building of the list of vacant buildings and actually develop it,” said Jennifer Jordan, project manager for St. Paul Planning and Economic Development. PED applied for the grant on behalf of the developer.

The grant money was the largest single amount awarded through $2.5 million in contamination cleanup funds from Metropolitan Council.

Combined, the grants doled out “will help clean up 28 acres, create or retain more than 1,700 jobs, increase the net tax base by $1.6 million, help to produce 168 affordable homes and encourage nearly $117 million in private investment,” said Susan Haigh, council chair for the Metropolitan Council, in a statement.

Keeping cheap through recycling

LaValle said revamping the property means essentially gutting it, pulling out floors, walls, ceilings and windows, but keeping the bones. Being able to use the existing structure will keep the rental costs down, he explained.

“We’ll essentially give this thing a bubble bath, a shave, and a haircut,” he said.

Crunching the numbers on that, he figures the apartments, which will range from 1 to 4 bedrooms, will be “keeping with market rates in the neighborhood,” while providing what are basically brand new units.

In terms of the specific layouts or design, it’s too early in the process to know.

In addition to the interior renovations, LaValle said they’ll be updating parking, installing amenities such as play areas for kids, and demolishing a garage structure on the premises. Construction should start late this month or in early August, once funds are in order, he said. From there, getting the place ship shape to begin renting should happen in a matter of months – LaValle projects they could be renting out units in the first quarter of 2014.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at

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