New energy is being poured into St. Louis Park to attract new residents and provide upgrade help for those who want to stay.
When a church began meeting individually with homeowners in St. Louis Park's Sorensen neighborhood to discuss buying and tearing down seven homes on the 3100 block of Alabama Av. S., residents got together over dessert to discuss ways to prevent the purchases.
The church would pay market value for the homes as they become available, using the land to expand.
One of the homes belongs to neighborhood association president Erin Hynes, who's leading residents who don't want to sacrifice the homes for a church. She likes the church; she can see it from her back yard, but she doesn't want to change the neighborhood she loves.
In a show of solidarity, many of the owners are planning to plant boulevard gardens this spring.
"When I moved here six years ago, I asked a neighbor to borrow a ladder to clean my gutters, but by the time I got home the work had been done for me," Hynes said. "That's the kind of neighborhood I live in. Who'd want to give that up?"
Apparently, others feel the same. In fact, 92 percent of a random selection of St. Louis Park residents said they have pride and ownership in their neighborhood, according to a 2005 study conducted by Decision Resources.
Many first-time home buyers are attracted to west St. Louis Park with many modest ramblers, as well as the east side of the city, where the Excelsior & Grand redevelopment project offers apartments and condos, shops and restaurants, and convenient access to Minneapolis' chain of lakes and Uptown area.
Opportunities exist for new housing. Nine parcels of publicly owned land are in the process of becoming available for residents who want to upgrade from starter homes.
"St. Louis Park boomed with the baby boomers," said Sheri Fine, an agent with Edina Realty's Minneapolis City Lakes office. "It's becoming an aging community, yet it's desirable for everyone because it's so close to the city."
Neighboring Minneapolis on the west, St. Louis Park is bordered by Interstate Hwy. 394 on the north and Hwy. 169 on the west. Hwy. 100 goes through the eastern portion of the city. That's where some of the most expensive homes are located in neighborhoods such as Browndale, Fern Hill and Minnetonka Vista.
Efforts are underway to build on the initial success of "Vision St. Louis Park," a 1995 planning initiative that included the $150 million Excelsior & Grand retail and housing development.
The city also is offering opportunities to residents who want to stay and update their houses. It will provide free services of a remodeling adviser and will help pay architectural fees for those want to expand.
"St. Louis Park is a revival community," Fine said. "For a while, it started getting old and it was cool to live in [Minneapolis], but in the last five years St. Louis Park has done so much to expand."
Hynes explained her affection for the first-ring suburb:
Q Why did you choose St. Louis Park?
A I grew up in an inner-ring suburb of Chicago and have lived in Philadelphia, Houston and Austin, Texas, and Chapel Hill, N.C., among other places, and I wanted to get back to a place that felt like home. This is what home feels like to me.
Q. What is your street like?
A My house is a 1½ story version of a 1938 Cape Cod. I have a garden, yard and a white picket fence. Unlike much of the housing stock in St. Louis Park, which was built after World War I, all the houses on my block were built during the late teens and early 1920s.