Push for historic status could slow, cancel Como church site redevelopment

The vacant church at 1035 14th Ave. SE in Como was designated as a “historic resource” on March 13.

The Como Congregational Church stands amid freshly-fallen snow on Monday, Feb. 17.  The historic site faces the potential of being developed into an apartment building.

Jasmin Kemp

The Como Congregational Church stands amid freshly-fallen snow on Monday, Feb. 17. The historic site faces the potential of being developed into an apartment building.

Yves De Jesus

A Como church could soon become a historic landmark of Minneapolis, further complicating development plans for the site. 

The Heritage Preservation Commission determined the 133-year-old Como Congregational Church is a “historic resource” on March 13. The vacant church sits just north of Van Cleve Park at 1035 14th Ave. SE. The finding, conducted by HPC, confirmed that the site fit criteria in cultural history and neighborhood identity. In February, Northland Real Estate Group presented plans for residential development on the site in the Como neighborhood. 

“This church represents the identity of this neighborhood as an early working class district, with many families and men and women working on the railroad and on milling jobs and other jobs,” said Larry Crawford, a nearby resident and a member of the local neighborhood advocacy group Concerned Como Neighbors.

Status as a historic resource means that any demolition requests for the church would have to go through an extra review board, which could deny that request. 

“They could also approve it — it could go either way,” said Andrea Burke, HPC supervisor. “But it’s kind of an extra step in the process.” 

The city awaits word from Northland Real Estate Group to determine any potential next steps with its land use applications. Brian Farrell, principal for the developer, said the project’s future is uncertain in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. He declined to comment on the recent determination by HPC. 

“At this point, given the circumstances, we’re assessing our options right now in light of the current economic conditions of the pandemic,” Farrell said. 

The original plans for the site include a two-story apartment complex with 39 bedrooms and 10 parking spaces. Instead of one lease for each unit, each bedroom would be rented individually for between $600 and $800.

Before closing in 2018, the church building served as a medieval arms museum and as a public gathering space run by The Oakeshott Institute, an educational nonprofit specializing in medieval armaments.

The property owner, Christopher Poor, said he has been trying to sell the property ever since it lost its nonprofit status in early 2018, meaning he would be required to pay property taxes on it. He said he has worked with the neighborhood to help secure buyers, but the deals never closed.  

Poor is worried his current deal with Northland Group could fall through given the neighborhood opposition to the redevelopment of the property site and the recent HPC determination. 

Concerned Como Neighbors is now looking to the next step of the process: historic landmark designation. The city’s designation process, which could take a couple of months, would give the church near-total protection from redevelopment. 

“So we’re overjoyed that the city has made this first determination,” Crawford said, “which starts to help start the process, and now we intend to see it go forward to be nominated and then approved as a landmark.”