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Longtime Bunge affordable housing project in its final step

The Bunge Grain Elevator has a long Minneapolis history.
A new mural on the side of the Bunge Tower is seen on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.
Image by Sydni Rose
A new mural on the side of the Bunge Tower is seen on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.

An affordable housing project underway in Southeast Como is the final step in the Bunge Grain Elevator renovation project.

The Maya Commons, a 50-unit affordable housing project by the organization Project for Pride in Living and named after poet Maya Angelou, started construction this summer. The grain elevator, a historical site connected to the development, is being renovated for completion within the next couple of months. The entire project is set to be finished by August 2020. 

“It seemed like such a good opportunity for more affordable housing in that neighborhood,” said Abbie Loosen, associate director of real estate development for PPL. “It seems like too great of an opportunity to pass up.” 

A lobby, fitness room and community room will be placed within the first three floors of the elevator, directly connected to the development. Another affordable housing development, the Brook Avenue Housing Co-op for students, is also connected on the other side of the elevator, sharing its amenities. 

The grain elevator itself will not be accessible to residents above the third floor, Loosen said. 

The project has other plans for the 200-foot tower: it will be transformed into a peace pole saying “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in six different languages. Placed around the site are sculptures created by a University of Minnesota art class made from salvaged metal pieces from the site as well as murals, Loosen said.

“It’s such a landmark,” said Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon. “It will remind some people of the history of what was there.”

The Bunge Grain Elevator is significant in Minneapolis history, but not just for its role in the grain industry. In more recent history, two deaths of people who were exploring the complex have made many say they are glad the site’s new use will make it safer.

“The neighborhood is really pleased with how it’s coming together,” said Karl Smith, board president of the Southeast Como Improvement Association.

Apart from preserving a neighborhood landmark, a high-level concern in the neighborhood is affordability in housing, Smith said. 

The Brook Avenue Housing Co-op, which opened this summer, is already 75 percent full, said Gary Ellis, executive director of the nonprofit Riverton Community Housing. The nonprofit is behind several affordable housing developments, including the Chateau Student Housing Co-op, a Dinkytown staple. 

“[We] provide and develop affordable housing … around universities and colleges so that we can provide an affordable model for the student population,” Ellis said. 

The monthly rent for the Maya Commons is set between $762 and $974. Individuals and families making less than 50 percent of area median income are eligible to live in the development.

“Having housing that’s affordable is so fundamental to … making progress in so many other aspects of life,” Loosen said. “It’s really foundational for success.”

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