Nearly 15 years ago, Alan Arthur, CEO of community developer Aeon, met with members of the neighborhood organization Hope Community about turning around the blighted corner of E. Franklin and Portland avenues in south Minneapolis.
Construction recently began on the fourth residential-commercial development, completing four corners, at what is now an attractive, busy intersection and a place to live and work for hundreds of people. Kids do homework or play in community space, families garden nearby and the crime rate has dropped.
Hope Community began in 1977 as a hospitality house and shelter for homeless women and children. It has evolved "house by house" in the neighborhood as a neighbor-led organization focused on family health, housing, education and economic success. Its operations are housed in one of the buildings at the intersection.
Arthur, a one-time homebuilder who has run Aeon since 1988, spoke last week about the four-corner project.
Q: What's important about the revitalization of this corner?
A: An intersection that was once known for prostitution and drug dealing has made great progress. And when we're done with the last corner, the transformation will be even greater.
Q: What are the four developments that took about 15 years, as you and Hope Community moved from vision, to planning, partnerships, financing, land and approvals along the way?
A: The first phase, on the southeast corner of the intersection, Children's Village Center, was completed in 2003. It's 36 apartment homes and about 10,000 square feet of office and community space. Phase II, completed in 2006, is the Jourdain: 41 apartment homes, and about 4,000 square feet of commercial space, including a grocery store. The Wellstone, completed in 2008, is 49 apartment homes and about 6,000 square feet of space. The last phase, the northwest corner, is the Rose, named for Sister Rose Tillemans, who ran the Peace House at that site for many years before her death [in 2002]. There also will be an urban garden. And we are renovating a 30-unit apartment building, the Pine Cliff. And we rebuilt the Peace House [a few blocks away].
Q: Aeon is a nonprofit, affordable housing developer and manager. Who are your partners here?
A: Our co-development partner always has been Hope Community. They had the vision and we bought into that. On the Rose, we have many partners, including the University of Minnesota on sustainability, MSR Architecture and Weis Builders. Cummins Power helped with research and planning.
Most housing in the country includes public subsidy. The mortgage interest deduction for homeowners is, of course, by far the largest housing public subsidy in the nation. Almost all affordable housing in the country also includes public support. This development includes resources from a variety of sources, including Aeon, U.S. Bank [low-income housing tax credits and a construction loan], the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Met Council, Minnesota Housing and the Family Housing Fund; local and national foundations.
Q: What is the price tag on the Rose?
A: The Rose is about a $36 million development, including environmental remediation and pioneering costs for pushing the sustainability bar upward for multifamily development around the country. The work on all four corners is approaching $50 million. The Rose is the biggest, twice as big as any of the others, and the latest.
On the Rose, we have also partnered with the University of Minnesota to push the envelope on making multifamily buildings sustainable. Gina Ciganik [Aeon's vice president of housing development] led our sustainability efforts. The Rose will be a national model for how to integrate energy-efficient, water-efficient approaches into a more effective whole. The Rose is designed to use [about 25 percent of the state code requirement for energy used in] similar buildings. Our goal is that very soon — but probably not when it opens — the Rose will be a net zero-energy property. It will produce all of the energy it uses.
Q: Whom do these developments serve?
A: They serve the entire community. Instead of blight and endemic social problems, there are families and children, living, playing and working there. On the northeast corner, where there once stood an abandoned gas station, now stands the Wellstone Apartments, with a great child care center at street level, 49 apartment homes up above, and, on the roof, the largest solar hot-water heating system on a multifamily property in Minnesota. Three of the existing corners have business space on the ground levels. [There's] offices and community space, a neighborhood market and a child-care center.
When the fourth phase is complete, a total of 246 apartments will be home to a variety of households, with rents ranging from affordable to families and individuals who make [as little as] minimum wage … to rents as high as $1,600 per month. It's a mix of people. There are also some apartment homes carved out for people who have been homeless.
Q: How many people will live and work at this intersection when the fourth corner is developed?
A: We estimate that more than 700 people will live and work at the intersection when the Rose Apartments is complete and occupied. The Rose will have 90 new apartments, and we are renovating the 30-unit Pine Cliff property also on the site. The development also will include an urban agricultural teaching garden, which will be coordinated by Hope Community. This garden is designed to help people in the community learn to grow and eat healthy food.
The visual impact is tremendous. There is an economic impact. The impact on the people and families and on the social fabric of the neighborhood is great.