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City wins a waiting game with abandoned building

  • Blog Post by: Steve Brandt
  • September 13, 2012 - 2:27 PM
File photo by Richard Sennott)

 

If you're one of the thousands of people daily who pass by an ornate but empty apartment building on Franklin Avenue just off Portland, you may have wondered why it's stood vacant for the past 16 years,

Now there are signs of hope.

The 1904 building at 628 E. Franklin Av. is the longest-running occupant of the city's vacant building list but it has now changed hands The building originally held luxury apartments, but now has fallen on hard times.

It's now in the hands of Twin Cities Community Lank Bank. That's a transitional status, according to the city's manager of residential and real estate development, Elfric Porte. "We're in the process of acquiring it from them," he said.

More pigeons than people have occupied 628 E. Franklin Av. in recent years   Staff photo by Richard Sennott

More pigeons than people have occupied 628 E. Franklin Av. in recent years Staff photo by Richard Sennott

It's a building that appears to have good bones, but in definite need of a facelift. When a reporter visited it last year, pigeons flapping through open windows had left piles of droppings. 

The sale ends a long-running standoff between the city's development agency and the late Azzam Sabri, who owned the building.  Sabri got the building in a court fight with a previous owner to whom he provided financing.  The city insisted that he follow through on the previous developer's commitment to create condos.

With the condo market down, Sabri wanted to switch to a commercial redevelopment.  But he ignored the city's requests for specifics about financing, marketing and other details.

The city could have reclaimed the building because terms of the redevelopment contract hadn't been met.  But Sabri and previous developer Jason Geshwind saddled the building with mortgages totaling more than the building's worth, which the city would have had to pay off.

So the city played a waiting game, and after Sabri succumbed to a battle with cancer 13 months ago, the family trust sold the building.

Porte and area Council Member Robert Llligren, whom the Sabri family considers a nemesis, said they'll explore commercial possibilities for the building, consulting with local developers for their ideas on what might work.  Given the building's configuration, that could potentially involve both retail and office use.   The city rejected previous proposals for conversion of the building to transitional housing after the neighborhood said it had an abundance of such uses.

When might development happen?  Porte said the market will determine that timeline.  

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