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Northrop School in Minneapolis circa 1948

, Star Tribune

Empty for 8 years, old Northrop school in Minneapolis has two competing offers

  • Article by: Steve Brandt
  • Star Tribune
  • February 25, 2013 - 8:26 PM

It’s a 1923 building that’s been empty for nearly eight years, but suddenly the old Northrop school in south Minneapolis is a hot property.

Two offers have emerged — both incorporating charter schools and one also adding senior housing — but the neighborhood is getting impatient for the school board to make a choice.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson could make a recommendation to the board as early as Tuesday. If she does, the board could vote on March 12. If she doesn’t, it would be late March.

The Field Regina Northrop Neighborhood Group supports a proposal by United Properties, which wants to renovate the old school at 1611 E. 46th St. for a start-up charter. On the rest of the block, it would build at least 30 cooperative units to be sold to area seniors ready to vacate their homes.

The competing proposal comes from highly regarded Hiawatha Leadership Academies, which also wants to renovate the school and open its second elementary school there.

Stearline Rucker, the neighborhood group’s president, is impatient for a board decision. “I don’t know why they’re stalling,” she said. “It would be nice if they could get it on the agenda so they could vote it up or down.”

The board’s solicitation of offers said it would consider them in the order received. United’s proposal arrived in mid-December. Two days later the city’s development arm, which is helping the district with the process, said that the offer was viable and recommended that the board “expeditiously consider” it.

Two months later, that hasn’t happened. The district waited for Hiawatha’s offer, made Jan. 29. The city agreed that it was viable, but said it prefers the United proposal, largely because it would generate tax base of an estimated $5.5 million to $6.5 million. Although Hiawatha’s proposal would actually invest nearly four times more than United in renovating the school, the property would stay off the tax base because an Arizona-based charter nonprofit would finance the purchase and acquisition, leasing the building to Hiawatha.

But United wanted a decision by the board in early January so its charter partner, start-up Arch Academy, could recruit students and the school would be ready for the fall. Hiawatha wouldn’t open in Northrop until 2014, so it has less time pressure; its original 30-day offer had expired, but a school official said it was to be extended Monday.

Board Chair Alberto Monserrate said he would have moved up the decision but he hasn’t sensed urgency. Chief Administrative Officer Mark Bollinger said his staff didn’t complete its analysis of the offers until last Wednesday, and he didn’t feel comfortable making a recommendation while Johnson was on vacation.

The district’s delay in acting on United’s offer has led some residents to wonder if the district is trying to skew the sale toward Hiawatha by making United’s timetable unworkable. They also note that the district signed an agreement with Hiawatha in January to cooperate on various activities, including facilities.

Monserrate said residents might be frustrated because some have been hoping for years that senior housing would be created on the site. But calling it a “complex decision,” he said others in the district have suggested that the school should be pulled from the market in case it’s needed again as district enrollment grows. Meanwhile, the district and city announced Monday that they’ve gotten seven offers to create housing or housing and/or commercial space at the former district headquarters in northeast Minneapolis. The neighborhood will review them on March 20 at 7 p.m. at Logan Park, 690 13th Av. NE.

teve Brandt • 612-673-4438Twitter: @brandtstrib

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