When they were built in the 1890s, the Euclid Flats apartments in St. Paul's Dayton's Bluff neighborhood catered to bachelor banking executives who worked in nearby downtown.

After World War II, the imposing Richardsonian Romanesque-style apartments were home to returning veterans and their young families.

By the 1980s, the flats had become a poorly managed "problem property" rife with drug dealing at a spot right across the street from an elementary school.

Now, the vacant, city-owned building at 234-238 Bates Avenue is a candidate for a $1.2 million restoration by a developer with a strong track record for rescuing historic properties.

After sifting through three proposals from would-be rehabbers, city and neighborhood officials this week chose a pitch by Waite Park, Minn.-based Sand Companies Inc. (SCI) to transform the Euclid Flats into 12 units of quality affordable housing.

The St. Paul City Council, acting as the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority, on Wednesday approved the company's designation as tentative redeveloper, giving it until May 30, 2014, to secure national historic status for the apartments and thus enable financing through the sale of historic preservation tax credits.

"One of the factors that went into choosing Sand Companies is their ability to work with historic properties and secure these credits," said Jennifer Jordan of the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development, who is managing the effort.

She cited SCI's much-praised project transforming the 1929 moderne-style Minnesota Building — once a struggling downtown Class C office high-rise — into a now-full apartment block, accomplished after SCI landed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

"The Euclid Flats are already located in the Dayton's Bluff Heritage Preservation District and are a rare example of a multifamily property within it," she said.

Agreeing with that assessment was Carol Carey of the nonprofit Historic Saint Paul.

"It's a beautiful masonry building," said Carey, who is also a neighborhood resident. "Its construction and site placement is a testament to Dayton's Bluff topography. One of the strengths of the neighborhood in the 1890s was the spectacular views of the Mississippi River Valley, and those same qualities are attracting investment today."

The building, however, is also a poster child for the decline of the neighborhood's fortunes in the postwar years. Before going into foreclosure and its acquisition by the city in 2011, the Euclid Flats were notorious for crime and poor upkeep.

"At one point years ago, that building housed 50 kids who were living in substandard conditions, many of whom were going to the school across the street," said Jim Erchel, executive director of Dayton's Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services.

Erchel, whose nonprofit has leveraged more than $12 million in housing reinvestment in the neighborhood, said the potential is there for a rehabbed complex to greatly aid his group's efforts to anchor and stabilize the mixed-income area around Dayton's Bluff Elementary.

Sand Companies CEO Jamie Thelen said he was drawn to the structure immediately when the HRA issued requests for proposals for its redevelopment in May.

"We like the fact that it's in a historic district, and we like the architecture of the building [by Herman Kretz & Co.]," he said. "We're interested in Dayton's Bluff as a community. You've got the Mounds Theater nearby, as well as the Metropolitan State University."

Rehabbing the building would be "fairly straightforward," he said, with the exterior of the building still in good shape. The interior, meanwhile, will require extensive upgrades, including new heating and electrical systems.

Under SCI's plans, new layouts would also be implemented. Units would be reduced from three bedrooms each to two bedrooms.

Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal.