Minneapolis City Council members voted Thursday to block demolition of what is likely downtown’s oldest surviving apartment building, which was ravaged by a fire in 2016.
The owners of the Oakland Apartments at 213-215 S. 9th St. had applied to tear down the building, which was designed by famed local architect Harry Wild Jones and constructed in 1889. But the city’s zoning and planning committee unanimously ruled against it, concurring with the city’s citizen-led historic preservation commission. The vote must be upheld by the full City Council next week.
Prospective buyers have expressed interest in renovating the property, but so far haven’t offered what owners are seeking — something close to the assessed land value of $600,000.
“In dealing with these properties over the years, I’ve never seen so [many] individual parties coming forward to express interest in rehabbing a building,” said city planner Aaron Hanauer.
Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents the area, said the building could likely earn landmark status — and therefore historic tax credits for a rehab — based on its Richardsonian Romanesque style and association with Jones.
“I have seen buildings in worse shape than this,” Goodman said, mentioning to the Milwaukee Road Depot and riverfront Mill District buildings before their renovation.
Dave Gonyea, who represents the building’s owners, noted that the city building officials sent him a letter asking him to demolish the property. Hanauer said the letter included an option to file an appeal, however, which was not pursued.
“We have no interest in doing anything with it,” Gonyea said. “We kind of either want to get it sold as a vacant lot or to somebody that will rehab the building.”
The preservation commission discussion last month focused on how a massive hole in the roof has not been repaired, leaving the building exposed to the elements. Gonyea said Thursday that repairing the roof could cost $50,000 for a temporary roof and $100,000 for a permanent one.
“It’s a neat old building and I understand all that,” Gonyea said. “But even if you have a designated historic building that burned that substantially, there’s issues with it — and sometimes probably [they] can’t be rehabbed.”
Speaking before the council, Eric Brown said the building is important to the history of the city.
“I don’t want to see the lack of maintenance or the historic … neglect of a building reflect on the way its present value is judged,” Brown said.
If Thursday’s vote is upheld, city staff will study the property’s history more extensively for possible historic designation.
“We’re open to offers,” Gonyea said after the vote. “I don’t think we feel the building can sit like that for 12 to 18 months. So we might have to end up in court to figure out a resolution if we don’t find an offer.”