By Roger Bergerson
After yet another setback, there is a real possibility that a vacant senior care center in the Como neighborhood will be razed.
But whatever the next step is for the former Sholom Home East facility at 1554 Midway Parkway, it won’t come easy, quick or cheap.
The property across Snelling Avenue from the State Fairgrounds has been unoccupied for nearly a decade, and the current owner recently acknowledged failing to obtain redevelopment funding after two years of trying.
David Grzan, a principal with the CRE Group, did not respond to the Park Bugle’s repeated requests for comment. But he told the District 10 Como Community Council newsletter, “We haven’t thrown in the towel, but our backs are up against the wall.”
Grzan also acknowledged that CRE owes money to a lot of people, including its former partner, Graham Construction.
A particular sore point with neighbors over the years has been vandalism, squatters and suspicious activity on the site, most of which ceased when Graham installed perimeter fencing.
So when that fencing was removed recently, it was a sure sign that something had changed, and not for the better.
“Within a day, graffiti appeared,” said Sue Anderson, a frustrated nearby resident. “The neighborhood has been fighting the city and owners for years to do something about this property, to no avail.”
The facility first came on the market in 2008, as Sholom prepared to depart for a new campus after 85 years on Midway Parkway. Its former complex consists of the original building and two subsequent additions.
Early on, the Lyngblomsten Care Center to the east expressed interest in acquiring the land—but not the buildings—for its own eventual expansion. Patricia Montgomery, director of marketing communications, said Lyngblomsten remains interested, although it is looking at other property, as well.
In the fall of 2008, RS Eden, a social service agency, proposed converting the facility into a housing project for clients going through drug rehabilitation. In the face of the neighborhood’s heated opposition, it backed out.
Subsequently, there were other plans to redevelop the site as an apartment/retail complex and then a senior housing facility, but lenders were unconvinced.
When CRE took over in December 2015, Grzan said he and his partners were seeking $20 million in financing to gut and remodel the property as a 168-unit assisted-living facility.
Again, no funding sources were found and the project’s price tag apparently kept growing. By the time the city of St. Paul’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority turned down CRE’s application for $18 million in tax-exempt bonds a year ago, the company was saying that the sum would provide about half the money needed.
“Given their financial challenges, the way forward probably involves the owners selling to another party with the wherewithal to make something positive happen, either in the existing buildings or through new construction,” said Russ Stark, who served as Fourth Ward City Council member representing the area until February, when he departed the post to join Mayor Melvin Carter’s administration.
If the property became a public nuisance, Stark said, the city could order the buildings demolished. If the owners did not comply, the city could raze the buildings and assess the cost to the property tax bill. But should the property then be tax-forfeited, the city would have to absorb the cost.
Local developer Steve Wellington has toured the former Sholom property and says it represents a formidable redevelopment challenge.
“It is common that the cost of a major renovation and the cost of new construction are equivalent and a new building there would be designed to be more functional over the long term,” Wellington said. “I expect that starting over would be a more prudent course of action.”
In the meantime, the City of St. Paul’s Department of Safety and Inspections will inspect the property twice a week to make sure it is secure and will conduct night checks as well, according to the department’s deputy director, Travis Bistodeau.
He said anyone with a complaint about a nuisance at the site, such as graffiti, snow on the sidewalk or garbage, should call the department hotline at 651-266-8989. Criminal activity or illegal occupancy should be reported to the St. Paul Police Department by calling 911 or the nonemergency number, 651-291-1111.
“In the longer term, the city is pulling together a team from various departments to better manage the site going forward,” Bistodeau said. Besides Safety and Inspections and police, the city’s Planning and Economic Development Department will be involved.
District 10’s Land Use Committee will devote its March 7 meeting to a discussion of the matter and has asked city officials to attend. The meeting will convene at 7 p.m. in Buchanan Hall at Holy Childhood Church, 1435 Midway Parkway. Attendees are asked to enter the building from the parking lot on Pascal Street.