The newest senior housing building in Dakota County, a unique public-private partnership, opened this month overlooking a park and pond in Burnsville.

The $21 million Valley Ridge building at County Road 5 and Burnsville Parkway is the first to be jointly built and occupied by Dakota County's Community Development Agency and the nonprofit senior housing giant, Presbyterian Homes. It's a bigger building on a bigger site than either could afford alone, officials said.

The east wing has 80 independent living apartments and the west wing has 20 Presbyterian Homes memory care units and 40 assisted-living apartments. The two wings are joined in the middle by a common area for socializing and dining.

Although Presbyterian Homes has many senior buildings throughout the metro area, this is the first financed using the tax-exempt status of the community development agency. That lowered Presbyterian Homes' costs and resulted in a rent reduction in memory care and assisted-living units by $600 a month.

"We think it's an outstanding opportunity and model for the future," said John Mehrkens, vice president of project development for Presbyterian Homes. "The fact that we combined the tools of the different organizations to offer a more affordable assisted-living format has not been done before."

The Community Development Agency has focused on providing affordable housing for seniors who can live independently. But it has been looking ahead to when those residents will need assisted living and studying how to make that more affordable as well, said Mark Ulfers, executive director of the development agency.

The county sees Valley Ridge as "a pilot project to see what we can do using our tools and resources to make assisted living more affordable."

In another first, Presbyterian Homes is managing the building for the development agency.

"We want to see it operate for a year or more and see how it works and whether the partnership that we have formed there is productive and cooperative," Uhlers said.

For the partnership to be successful, "we will have to see that the management costs are comparable to what the CDA expenses are," he said.

Burnsville city officials and county representatives beamed at opening ceremonies for the building this month.

For Burnsville, the icing on the cake is that a dilapidated 1960s-era strip mall formerly on the site was replaced by the imposing new landmark.

"The new development fits the neighborhood so well," said Mayor Elizabeth Kautz. "It makes our city even more prosperous and attractive."

Kautz told the story of how Presbyterian Homes and the Community Development Agency each were looking for a place to build in Burnsville. Although they liked the Burnsville Parkway-County Road 5 location, each had rejected the strip mall site as too big.

"So we said if it's too big for you and it's too big for you, maybe you should go together and split the site," said Burnsville community development director Jenni Faulkner.

The building occupies seven of the site's 14 acres. The development agency owns it all and plans to sell the rest for commercial or office development.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287