For retiree Bill McConnell, purchasing a home in the Lowry Grove mobile home park in St. Anthony 30 years ago was his chance to buy a sliver of the American dream.
“I was always low income, being a printer. This was affordable for me,” McConnell said. “I came here to survive. This has been a wonderful situation for me for the past 30 years.”
McConnell and 96 other mobile home owners learned this week that the 15-acre park has been sold and will be redeveloped. They have a year to move out.
It’s the latest in a string of closings in the north metro, including parks in Spring Lake Park and Anoka in recent years.
Mobile homes were the original affordable housing option in suburban and rural Minnesota, but the number of occupied manufactured homes has declined 12 percent since 2001, to 13,660, according to Metropolitan Council data. Delivery of new mobile homes to the state has also plummeted, from 3,377 units in 1999 to 485 last year. A tightened credit market after the Great Recession has devastated the industry. It’s harder to finance mobile home purchases because banks consider them a depreciating asset.
The owners of Lowry Grove say they’ve been approached by developers for years who were interested in the prime piece of real estate at the corner of Stinson Parkway and Lowry Avenue. The park’s infrastructure is starting to fail, and many of the 1960s- and ’70s-era mobile homes are starting to deteriorate, making it the right time to sell, said Phil Johnson, managing partner of Lowry Grove LLC. During the years Johnson and his partners have owned the park, there’s been only one new home moved onto the property.
While many of the homes and RVs are showing their age and have been patched up with duct tape and plastic, glimmers of pride in ownership also show. Some of the homes have been well maintained, with fences and gardens blossoming with tulips. One young family that moved in last year has invested $5,000 in repairs.
“My sense is the [new owners] will do everything they can to properly compensate residents,” Johnson said. “I do feel badly. It’s difficult to move.”
Johnson and partners bought the park for $1.45 million in 2001, according to property records. The estimated market value of the land is now $2.25 million. The sale price hasn’t been disclosed because the transaction is not yet final.
Residents will have one year to either move their homes or find alternate housing. State law requires the property owners to provide some financial assistance to relocate.
The buyer, Continental Property Group in Wayzata, said it will work with residents during the move. Relocation payments for individuals could fall in the $2,000-$10,000 range, said Continental President Traci Tomas.
Tomas was vague about future plans but said that given the property’s proximity to the Quarry shopping center, a big-box retailer is unlikely. “We will be working with the city and the neighborhood,” she said. ”We are considering everything.”
Tomas said she’s familiar with Lowry Grove and St. Anthony. She worked as the park’s manager early in her career. She grew up in Columbia Heights and now lives in nearby New Brighton.
Residents in and near the park absorbed the news of the closing with mixed emotions: worry for families and seniors who might struggle to find alternative affordable housing, and some relief that the mobile home park — which logged 174 police calls in 2015 and was the site of the city’s most recent fatal shooting in 2014 — would close. Lowry Grove is the only mobile home park in the city.
“It has been one of our busier spots. … We’ve had several arrests there related to drug stuff,” said St. Anthony police Capt. Dominic Cotroneo. “It is a gateway to the city. A change is probably going to be nice.”
Artist Nina Guertin’s home borders the mobile home park.
“There are just some beautiful people who live there, but there has been a mix of the rougher side of life,” she said.
A part of her will welcome a new development that will breathe new life into the neighborhood.
“For part of me, there is a sadness of what will become of the people who live there,” Guertin said.
Lowry Grove resident Esteban Barrios said rumors of a sale have been circulating for some time. A bit more candor from the owners would have been appreciated.
“I am not sad to go. I was planning to go,” said Barrios, a medical interpreter. “I bought my house here really cheap. It’s a 1967 mobile home. … I was thinking about buying a home.”
He said others may not have such good options. “I am young. The older people, I feel for them.”
Others are taking the news hard. John Weeber has lived there 14 years and is known for helping neighbors with repairs.
“They’re gonna just throw us away like garbage,” he said.