Like many cities across Minnesota, St. Louis Park is wrestling with what to do with closed school campuses. As demographics change and the general population becomes older, the same conundrum will face most cities.
There are no clean solutions. The best a city can hope for is that another educational entity might be willing to purchase and occupy the former school site, making it a wash.
Given the advance of technology, particularly in relationship to educational endeavors, that eventuality has been reduced considerably.
Repurposing the buildings in any fashion is dicey due to asbestos, lead paint and wiring concerns.
So what’s a city to do?
St. Louis Park has decided to change its comprehensive plan to allow a developer, Dan Hunt, to begin work on 138 apartments on the site of the former Eliot School. Residents around the school had hoped their new neighbors would live in a handful of single-family units, but that does not make economic sense to anyone who has been following the housing market in the west metro over the past four years.
The response to the multifamily development was disheartening. St. Louis Park residents appeared to lump those who rent in with drug dealers and partiers.
While it may not be an ideal solution, the alternative is for the site to continue to sit empty and become an eyesore and eventually a safety concern for the neighborhood.
We no longer live in an economic client where anyone who can sign his or her name can purchase a home. Been there. Done that. Didn’t work.
So when banks clamped down on who could obtain home loans, it sparked considerable interest in the rental housing market, particularly at the higher end of the spectrum.
The $2.05 million apartment complex Hunt is proposing does not appear to be tenements. The units will rent at market value, which at the moment is higher than it has been for many years.
Rental property owners generally go to great lengths to screen potential clients both for ability to pay and past history as related to law enforcement encounters.
There should be no concern about the units becoming “affordable housing.” At one point in history, the mention of such units left neighbors recoiling in horror, and it appears that now all rental housing has been lumped into the same onerous category.
Unfortunately, renters are here to stay. And developers will continue to make decisions based on economics and zoning considerations, rather than those who believe renters are persona non grata and somehow less than human.
In a perfect world, the St. Louis Park School District would have leveled the Eliot School lots and turned them over to the city to plant grass and trees, creating a park. Unfortunately, that’s not a financial reality in 2013.
The decisions made relating to this project thus far have been deliberate and thorough. Now it’s time everyone to work together to make this the best possible development for the benefit of all.