A massive $100 million redevelopment proposal is expected to transform Fort Snelling’s historic military buildings into 190 apartments for low-income families in the area near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials announced the landmark proposal Wednesday, saying it will overhaul and preserve the Fort Snelling Upper Post.
Officials said it is exciting to see a place that holds great importance in Minnesota’s history be reborn as a place for Minnesota’s future.
“It’s going to preserve 26 of the most historic buildings in Minnesota,” said Larry G. Peterson, park manager and Upper Post project manager.
The proposal submitted by Dominium, an affordable housing development and management company in Plymouth, would give new life to the buildings that once functioned as a military hub in the 1800s and early 1900s. Dominium is in the process of negotiating a lease with the DNR that will then be approved by the Minnesota State Executive Council.
The proposal, which has received preliminary approval, would renovate the historic buildings now sitting in disrepair. In 2009, a building on the property collapsed.
Dominium would restore the 26 historic buildings on the property while preserving their historic look. BKV architecture group will work on the renovation, which could break ground in 2017.
Dominium has led projects to renovate other historic buildings, including the redevelopment of St. Paul’s Brewery on W. 7th Street. The company is now working to finish a $175 million project converting the Minneapolis Pillsbury A Mill into artist lofts.
The historic Fort Snelling Upper Post site is located near the airport, a Metro Transit light rail station, the Mall of America and is bordered by a soccer field and golf course.
Mark Moorhouse, senior vice president and partner at Dominium, said the property is a prime spot to provide housing for Minnesota’s workforce.
“There is a great need for workforce housing in the Twin Cities,” Moorhouse said.
The multimillion-dollar project will be funded in part with low-income housing tax credits and federal and state historic tax credits.
Ryan Baumtrog, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, said the property would offer housing to families with a total household income of $60,000 or below. While rent rates are not set, tenants could expect to pay $900 for a one-bedroom and up to $1,250 for a three-bedroom apartment.
“We have much ahead of us,” said Erika Rivers, Parks and Trails director for the DNR. “We are moving forward with this development.”
A board comprised of the DNR, the National Park Service, Hennepin County, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the Minnesota Historical Society was created in 2013 to supervise future plans for the property. In spring, Dominium’s proposal was chosen to lead the property’s redevelopment.
Smith said there were some hurdles keeping plans for the property from moving forward. It’s part of unincorporated Hennepin County and is not a part of any city. Smith said it is likely the site could fall under the control of Hennepin County.
The DNR took over the property in 1971 after becoming a historic landmark in 1960. During World War II, the site was used as a Japanese intelligence and language school. For a time, the site also housed the Buffalo Soldiers, which were all-black regiments in the U.S. Army.
Peterson, park manager and Upper Post project manager, said the inmates who worked on repairing the buildings through a special program found military clothes inside the walls of some buildings. They also found letters. One was from a soldier telling his mother about his sergeant’s harsh treatment toward him.
John Anfinson, a National Park Service official, said the building is tied not only to Minnesota’s history but also to the history of the entire country.
“To see it saved is one of the greatest moments in my career as a historian,” Anfinson said.
Dominium is planning to preserve the area’s natural environment as well as set up renewable energy resources on the property, said Russell Condas, development associate for the company.
Future plans for the property could also include signage that would provide historical information about the buildings.
For now, it sits as a boarded-up reminder of Minnesota’s past.
“This is a great opportunity to provide housing and restore these buildings, because otherwise we will lose them,” said Scott Vreeland, a Minneapolis Park Board commissioner.