Luther Seminary signs land deal with Ecumen

Luther Seminary signed a land purchase agreement with Ecumen, a Lutheran-affiliated nonprofit developer of senior housing headquartered in the Twin Cities, on Dec. 7.

Ecumen plans to build a 49-unit senior cooperative on 1.6 acres at the southeast edge of the seminary’s campus. The area is just north of the corner of Como Avenue and Luther Place.

The three-story building will include underground parking for 70 vehicles and surface parking for 58 vehicles. The one- or two-bedroom units will range from 952 to 1,953 square feet. Sales for the cooperative will begin in spring 2016. The project is expected to be completed in late 2017.

The project was first introduced to the neighborhood in September. Ecumen presented plans and renderings for the co-op and two other developments on land across from Health Partners at Como and Eustis Street at an open house on Sept. 24 and at the District 12 Land Use Committee meeting on Oct. 1. Neighborhood opposition to the proposed 60-unit co-op prompted Ecumen to hold a series of community workshops in October to gather input from area residents. Ecumen then revised its site plan for the co-op and formed a small community workgroup to discuss design issues.

The new site plan moved the building to the property just behind the current parking lot, where three seminary houses now stand. The number of units in the building was decreased and the new plan preserves green space at the corner of Como Avenue and Luther Place, preserves St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church’s access to a parking lot at the site, preserves views to and from Bockman Hall on the campus, and removes a proposed parking lot entrance on Como at Valentine Avenue.

On Dec. 10, four days after the purchase agreement was signed, the St. Anthony Park Community Council voted in favor of writing a letter of support for the project to the St. Paul City Council.

The proposed Eustis developments included a 121-unit apartment building with some assisted-living components and 20 percent affordable rates and a 112- unit memory-care facility. That project has been put on hold, according to Matt McNeill, Ecumen’s director of business development.

“To fulfill our primary mission to educate Christian leaders, we need to invest in our core campus and better utilize our buildings and land,” said Luther President Robin Steinke in a press release from the seminary.

In 2012, the seminary reported a $4 million budget deficit. Since then, Luther has cut staff, sold the Sandgren and Burntvedt apartment buildings on Eustis and rented space to Augsburg College to house its physician assistant studies program. Proceeds from the sale of the land will help fund deferred maintenance, student housing needs and renovations to historic buildings on the seminary campus.

Established in 1869, Luther is the largest of the eight seminaries in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Ecumen is governed by a 15- member board of trustees elected by representatives from each of the six Minnesota synods of the ELCA.

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