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It's try, try again for a faded apartment gem

Posted by: Steve Brandt under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Public safety, Urban living Updated: July 10, 2014 - 3:06 PM

Is there a developer out there who can rescue a handsome old apartment building from more than 10 years on the city’s boarded building list?

City development officials this week asked for development proposals for 628 E. Franklin Av., nearly two years after the city took control of the building. The proposal deadline is Sept. 5.

The 1904 building appears to have decent bones but could use an extensive facelift.  The city’s development department said it’s open to business, and rental or ownership housing proposals. It said it will give priority to fully funded business or market-rate housing proposals.

The agency's Cherie Shoquist said it decided to seek proposals now because the city started getting inquiries from developers. She said she's expecting proposals for higher-end rental housing.

“The building’s so beautiful and has so much potential," Shoquist said.

But the neighborhood is feeling cut out. Ventura Village board chair Thor Adam said the neighborhood group learned of the agency's RFP from a reporter's call. "To be removed from that is concerning,:" he said. Years ago, the neighborhood group expressed a preference for ownership housing such as condos to offset the area's high concentration of rental housing, Adam said. He said the project also needs to be considered in the context of larger discussions about future use of city-owned lots in the area. 

Shoquist said the group will have an opportunity to review and comment on proposals, and that's better than ruling out potential usines of the building upfront. .  “We encourage the developers to contact the neighborhood and bring letters of support form the neighborhood," she said.

The structure was built as luxury apartments, but has fallen since on hard times. It sits not far from the 5th Avenue S. freeway entrance, between the major commuting routes of Portland and Park avenues.

The city in essence bought the building in 2012 from the Sabri family trust after Azzam Sabri, the building’s most recent owner, died of cancer in 2011. The purchase went through the Twin Cities Community Land Bank as an intermediary. Sabri got the building after a court fight with previous owner Jason Geschwind, to whom he provided financing.

The development agency insisted that he follow through with Geschwind’s commitment to create condos. Sabri wanted to switch to commercial reuse, but ignored the city’s requests for details on financing, marketing and other specifics.

Sabri's brother Basim, also a developer, said he has no interest is making a proposal to the city because he likes to work independently. "It's a gorgeous building," he said.

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