Six Dayton’s Bluff properties get six months of air

Six properties in the Dayton’s Bluff historic district, including 737 Plum St., have been saved from the wrecking ball, at least for now. (file photo)
Six properties in the Dayton’s Bluff historic district, including 737 Plum St., have been saved from the wrecking ball, at least for now. (file photo)

Jane Prince helps broker deal

In her first week on the job, Ward 7's new council person, Jane Prince, has already helped cut a deal to give six properties in Dayton's Bluff's historic district a fighting chance.

The solution, she said, was simple: get the interested parties together for an in-person discussion.

As a result of that meeting, the city council voted to hold off on demolishing the houses, opting to revisit the issue in July after more steps are taken to try to save them. 

The properties in question include houses at 737 Plum St., 700 E. Fourth St., 767 E. Fourth St. and 275 Bates Ave., and commercial properties at 208-210 and 216-218 Bates Ave.

The properties were being pursued for demolition by the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority, after various efforts to sell the city-owned properties to developers were unsuccessful — proposals either didn't come in or requested too much public subsidy. 

The HRA now plans to go through another round of marketing the houses to see if any developers will fix them up.

They'll put them up through the same request-for-proposals process they'd used previously with the homes, but now will have help from the Dayton's Bluff Community Council to advertise the RFP process. They've got at least until July 6, when the city council is next scheduled to discuss the matter.

New energy

Though the houses in question have already been through multiple RFP processes, Prince's aide Stephanie Harr says the new council member is optimistic that with increased neighborhood involvement, at least some of the properties will get fixed up and stay in the historic district's housing stock.

The HRA is approaching it with the same optimism.

"Due to the recent interest from a newly formed developer entity, the HRA believes that an economically viable solution may result from another issuance of an RFP," said Mollie Scozzari, spokesperson for the HRA and the city's Planning and Economic Development department. 

This new developer entity has requested not to be named as of yet, Scozzari said.

However, a prospective partnership between neighborhood groups and the nonprofit house restoration group Historic St. Paul could be part of the picture.

Balanced rehab

Carol Carey, director of Historic St. Paul, said the organization is looking at partnering with neighbors to put in some responses to the city's request for proposals for the properties.

Carey is also a Dayton's Bluff resident and a part owner of the Stutzman building, which houses Swede Hollow Cafe.

Historic St. Paul has done similar fix-ups in Frogtown through a partnership between Frogtown Neighborhood Association and Historic St. Paul, called Preserve Frogtown, Carey said. 

Carey said the city's approach with the Dayton's Bluff houses had been perhaps too much all-or-nothing — doing a full basement to roof remodel with fancy kitchens and light fixtures, or demolishing. 

She said Preserve Frogtown's approach has been to do a rehabilitation somewhere in the middle: code-compliant, marketable houses that highlight the homes' and the neighborhood's histories, without lavish updates.

$1 million

In total, the HRA began pursuing demolition of seven properties within the Dayton's Bluff historic district late last year. 

The St. Paul Historic Preservation Committee, which makes decisions about properties within the city's historic districts, pushed back on five of these, denying the HRA's request to demolish. The HRA appealed the denial, forcing a city council decision on the matter, which has now been delayed until July.

The seven properties, if demolished, would cost the city roughly $1 million from acquisition to demolition. Much of that money, mostly from federal sources, has already been spent acquiring the properties.

Three properties, including one house and two commercial structures known as the "shock block," were already approved for demolition by the HPC last year. But, the commercial and residential structures at 208-210 and 216-218 Bates Avenue are now back in the running for rehabilitation, following the conversation that Prince struck up. 

One fire-damaged home, however, at 716 Wilson Ave., has been approved for the wrecking ball, despite the HPC's pushback on the property.

All but one of the seven properties are rated by the HPC to be important to the historic character of the neighborhood.

All the homes the HRA targeted for demolition come with ample lists of required repairs and issues, sometimes including severe damage from water seeping in, foundation problems, and the like.

To demolish the properties, the HRA would use the Inspiring Communities fund, which is comprised of multiple funding sources, including local, state and federal dollars. The demolition costs would bring up the expenses on the seven properties to $1 million.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PatrickLarkinMn.

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