Redevelopment raises concerns

by Vadim Lavrusik

During the next two years, the defunct grain elevator in Southeast Como will be transformed into a 20-story condo complex.

Project for Pride in Living, a nonprofit organization that works to increase self-sufficiency, plans to redevelop the Bunge Tower, hoping to attract low, medium and high-income buyers.

Some neighborhood residents have criticized the project, calling the idea of high- and low-income residents living in one facility “unrealistic.”

Neighbors also expressed their concern about another aspect of the proposal – a plan to provide housing and support services for adults with mental health and chemical dependency issues.

Charlotte Wild, a resident of the Como neighborhood, said she is skeptical of mixed-income housing.

“Can you show me where high-income homes, where they are right next to low-income homes – show me where it works,” Wild said. “All the ideas of the project are noble, but in reality the rich don’t like to live with the poor.”

Chris Wilson, real estate development director for PPL, said that statement is just not true.

“If you go downtown to People Serving People, on the same block there is a whole set of high-end condos,” Wilson said. “There are many other places where this works; I just don’t see it as being a problem.”

Demolition is scheduled to begin in late January, Wilson said.

Wild, who lives near PPL’s employment readiness learning center, said she has had nothing but problems with the participants of the program who wait for the bus by her street.

“I am not comfortable having friends over because of these people across the street,” she said. “I am not the only one in the neighborhood that feels this way.”

She said she tried communicating with the facility’s management to resolve her concerns, but has had no success.

Wilson said Wild’s concerns are with a different branch of PPL’s organization. Como residents have been supportive of the project because they are able to communicate their concerns to PPL, he said.

Some of the concerns, Wilson said, included keeping the original structure, building adjacent low-rise housing and marketing units toward University faculty.

James De Sota, neighborhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said PPL has addressed all these concerns in the project’s designs.

De Sota said one of the neighborhood’s biggest goals is increasing home ownership, something the project encourages.

The University has had a lot of inquiries from interested alumni and staff who want to live close to campus and may be interested in buying condos in the project, he said.

“There are some people who are looking forward to seeing what PPL ends up doing,” he said.

Wild also voiced her concern with the transitional housing coming into the neighborhood.

She said she has had bad experiences with “halfway house people.”

Many people in recovery return to their patterns of abuse, said Wild, who identifies herself as a recovering alcoholic. The concern, she said, is that these people might bring their “baggage” into the neighborhood.

Mary Morris, executive director of the Cabrini Partnership, which runs the transitional housing program, said the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood has similar supportive housing units.

“We have never had a problem in that neighborhood,” Morris said. “We have always been good neighbors and have never lost a landlord.”

She said the Southeast Como facilities will be no exception and the tenants will have a full-time staff member available 24 hours a day.

Tenants supported by the Cabrini Partnership pay 30 percent of the rent and the partnership pays the rest, Morris said. Participants are required to have jobs.

Paul Lipetzky, a landlord in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn neighborhood, said he has never had any problems with his tenants enrolled in the Carbini Partnership program.

Lipetzky said because Cabrini pays the rent, his risk as a landlord is lower.

“If they came to me on their own I would have (a) problem renting to them, because of their history,” he said.