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Healy house that drew preservation fight headed for demolition

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: April 18, 2014 - 8:11 AM

A run-down rooming house that was once a grand example of master builder T.P Healy's handiwork is poised for demolition after an extended fight over historic preservation.

The property owner plans to sell the 120-year-old house on 24th Street and Colfax Avenue South for development
of a four-story, 45-unit building on the site (see rendering below). The city's zoning and planning committee voted 5 to 1 Thursday to approve an appeal of the heritage preservation commission decision to block demolition. That vote must be affirmed by the full council.

The proposed demolition has attracted significant attention from neighbors, preservationists and even TV host Nicole Curtis, who lives in the area. Council Members received a barrage of e-mails Wednesday night after Curtis made a plea on her Facebook page.

Testimony at a public hearing Thursday hinged largely on whether the building could be viably restored and whether the older, low-income people inside should be displaced out of the chic neighborhood bordered by Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues.

'These are truly affordable units that allow lower-income people the opportunity to live in the Wedge neighborhood," said Paul Ryan, observing that the building's inhabitants add valuable diversity to the area.

The building itself has been significantly altered from its original design; the interior looks more akin to a dormitory than a historic home following several fires and conversion to a 16-unit rooming house.

Preservationists argued that it could be restored, but owner Michael Crow and others said no one has stepped forward with an offer to buy it. Crow has grown weary of running the rooming house after a series of health problems.

Council Member Lisa Bender, who represents the area, said she could not imagine someone paying $500,000 or more to restore the house to a single-family home.

"Is it a policy directive to legally mandate preservation of his home and restoration to a single-family home in a neighborhood that has a mix of housing types, where we want to see a density of people living close to downtown in a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood?" Bender asked. "I don't think it is."

The lone 'no' vote came from Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents part of downtown. She said the house will see an 'untimely death' because of its location in densely zoned area where mixed-use housing is very popular.

"I think we should be standing by what we believe in, which is preserving affordable housing in our city. That's an equity issue. Standing up for our zero-waste policies, that's an equity issue," Goodman said. "And trying not to be the council that says density is at the expense of preservation. And I sadly fear that that's the direction we're moving in."

As a master builder, Healy oversaw everything from the design to construction of his homes, which are peppered throughout Minneapolis. His great-grandson, John Cunningham, said the building could have a second life.

“I believe in my professional opinion it can be restored to a very very good facsimile of the pictures that you see [today]," Cunningham said.

Scott Shaffer testified that so much of the original building was gone that a restoration would not actually be preservation. "We’d be doing historical restoration. It would be a replica, it wouldn’t be an original historic building," Shaffer said.

The full council will vote on the project at their meeting next week.

Top photo: Michael Crow showing the 2320 Colfax house (Richard Tsong-Taatarii). Top right: Photo of the 2320 Colfax house taken by Landscape Research LLC.

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