Housing

Jeremy Taff

Some residents of the University’s West Bank may be forced to vacate their homes and businesses by the summer of 1999 if a plan to construct a high-rise apartment building becomes reality.
Education Environments, an Atlanta-based real estate company, is working on a proposal to build a 16-story, 700-resident student housing complex. Rents would range from $485 to $550 per month for each resident.
The complex would be the third of similar buildings in the works to be ready by late 2000. University Village apartments on 25th and University avenues should be ready by next school year; the University’s South Mall Student Housing Project will replace the East River Road Ramp by the 2000-01 academic year.
Greg Almquist, chief executive officer of Education Environments, said the year-and-a-half-old company wants to create a quality environment for University students while increasing prosperity for West Bank businesses.
“We create student housing environments that help students achieve their educational goals,” Almquist said. “This will hopefully become a catalyst to help that whole community continue to grow.”
Almquist said the new complex would house retailers along the first floor and office space on the second and third floors. The remaining 13 floors would be two or four bedroom apartments supplied with a bathroom, telephone line and computer hook-up for every resident.
While company officials tout the building’s advantages, some local residents will lose their homes and businesses if the building is constructed.
The West Bank development calls for the destruction of the Washington Square Apartments, a radiator shop and the 7 Corner Grocery Store. Alquist said Sgt. Preston’s bar and restaurant and the Theatre in the Round would be preserved.
“What about the people who live there, what about them?” 7 Corner Grocery Store owner Moji Sadr-panah said. “They’re going to run them out, basically.”
Almquist said that although his company would have to tear down Sadr-panah’s store, he sees this as a good opportunity for the store’s owner to boost business.
“I met with him and we would love to have Moji stay,” Almquist said. “We think his business will only grow.”
Despite Almquist’s enthusiasm, Sadr-panah said he would not be able to afford a new commercial site within Education Environment’s proposed complex.
Sadr-panah also said he doesn’t feel the proposal is the right fit for the West Bank community.
“Sure I can see what these people are trying to do: preserve the buildings, give it a better look,” Sadr-panah said. “But instead of 1,000 people, bring in 300 or 400 so you can accommodate parking and so on.”
Sadr-panah said he will voice those opinions when company officials meet with the Cedar-Riverside Business Association on Oct. 15.
“I think it’s very encouraging that they’re coming here at an early point, looking for the input and support of the neighborhood,” said Pete Goelzer, the association’s chairman. “One never knows how the community is going to respond to things like this, but I think it makes sense for the University as well as the community.”
Mary Ann Ryan, director of University Housing and Residential Life, talked with Almquist on his recent visit.
“We welcome conversations with private developers, particularly as it relates to quality student housing close to campus to see if we can create some win-win scenarios,” Ryan said.
Though the company is in the beginning stages of development, construction could begin as early as spring 1999. But that would require speedy and congruent action from area property owners and Minneapolis legislators.
To erect the proposed building, the company would require a denser zoning code. And to change the zone, the company would need two-thirds consent of property owners within 100 feet of the proposed site, Minneapolis Zoning Office Supervisor Bill Nordrum said.
If the company received approval from property owners, it would then go though a public hearing with the Minneapolis Planning Commission, Nordrum said. Then the Minneapolis City Council would vote on the proposed construction.
Although it sounds complicated, Normstrom said approval for the zone change is possible and could take about three months.
“We have the support,” Almquist said. “We want it to be a model to show other schools around the country.”