57 of 60 displaced downtown renters find new living arrangements

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  • November 5, 2012 - 12:07 PM

Fifty-seven of the 60 residents of a downtown apartment building have found new places to live, according to a pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, which bought the building last summer.

The church paid about $4.8 million for the adjacent Marimark Apartments building last summer and told residents they planned to demolish it, replacing it with a parking lot and a building or buildings to expand church services.

Rev. Doug Mitchell, the church’s associate pastor, said in an interview last week, “We are very pleased that over 90 percent [of the tenants] are relocated and we continue to work with the other three to work them through the process.”

“We anticipate demolition in early 2013. They will be out of this building [by then], but I think they will be out long before that.”

The rents were relatively low at Marimark at 1226 Marquette Av. S. and some of the renters were distraught at the prospect of finding inexpensive, suitable housing elsewhere. City officials and housing advocates also expressed dismay at the building’s demolition. The church said it would pay moving expenses for the residents and cover the differences between their current rent and the rent in their new home, if it is higher.

Those who have lived in Marimark for at least 10 years will receive 42 months of “rental gap” payments. Residents who have lived there between five and 10 years will receive the payments for 36 months, and those who have stayed in the building for less than five years will receive it for 24 months.

“We have been very pleased with people’s ability to find apartments they are happy with,” Mitchell said. “We have paid all the moving expenses and the deposits and subsidies if the rent was higher.”

Church leaders have pledged to contribute $3 million toward the building of 150 new affordable housing units downtown, 100 of which would be in downtown, and the other 50 in or near downtown. Mitchell said that the church is looking at several sites within two blocks of the Marimark. The Star Tribune quoted housing advocates saying it could cost as much as $24 million to cover construction of 150 new units.

Mitchell said Marimark is “in terrible condition.” The cost of renovating it would be $3 million to $5 million, and “if we spent the money to refurbish it, will would no longer be affordable” for low income renters, he said.

Westminster also recently bought the other building on the block, a low-rise office building at 1221 Nicollet Mall. The church is anticipating that the parking facilities for the new building or buildings will be underground, Mitchell said. Besides expanding its ministry at the new building or buildings, the church has held “listening sessions” with members of the congregation to discuss what else might be included in the project, he said. There has been suggestions of a having a child care center, a medical clinic and a restaurant, and some affordable housing or senior housing.

Other discussions will be taking place with city officials, residents in the immediate area and area business and others who have ideas on how best to use the property, Mitchell said. “We have not made any decisions,” he said.

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