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Como Congregational Church could become apartments and community center

If passed by the City Council, construction may start in the winter of 2022.
A rendering of the Como Congregational Church after a full restoration, with apartments and a community center. Photo courtesy of Joel Hussong

The Como Congregational Church, located on 14th Avenue, may be getting a new look if City Council passes it in late January, with an addition of six apartments and a community center.

This project could revitalize the 1886 church building, which has been vacant for several years, said Larry Crawford, the Como Community Center president. The community center will hold neighborhood meetings, plays and worship services.

Current plans include two three-bedroom, two four-bedroom and two five-bedroom units, totaling 24 bedrooms along with a community center located in the sanctuary. There will not be any parking spaces, but there will be 20 bike racks.

Developer Joel Hussong of Urban Canopies said he plans for the apartments to have a mix of residents, including students and families. The rent for each apartment will vary, but Hussong expects each bedroom to cost between $500 and $600.

Minneapolis planning regulations do not allow for apartments with this many units in residential areas, so the developer applied for a zone variance, which passed the planning commission Dec. 6 and will go before the Minneapolis City Council in late January. If passed, Hussong said he plans on starting construction shortly afterwards.

Although Hussong purchased the entire property the church sits on, he will be donating the sanctuary part to the Como Community Center nonprofit. Hussong will update the apartments while the Como Community Center will redo the sanctuary.

Renovations for the community center are estimated to cost around $500,000 and is funded by donations to the Como Community Center, Crawford said.

The Como Community Center also wants to redo the outside of the building to match the original design. Plans include painting the stucco red to look similar to the original brick exterior and restoring the wood shingles on the torrets, Crawford said.

“Somewhere along the line, probably for maintenance reasons, they stuccoed over the whole building and a lot of the details had been lost,” Hussong said.

Complicated relationship with developers

Hussong said he is the sixth person to have a purchase agreement for the property but the first to have plans to renew the building, as other developers have wanted to tear it down. The neighborhood organization has prevented a demolition of the church.

“There is a lot of mistrust between the neighborhood and developers,” Hussong said. “There’s a lot of division in the neighborhood. It’s probably the biggest concern is the difference between existing homeowners and people that want to renovate properties and rent them out.”

For many developers, it’s cheaper and easier to tear down an old building rather than rehabilitate it, said Paul Marzahn from Saving Sacred Spaces.

In the past, Crawford has been against certain developments in the neighborhood but is excited for this project. The church plans went before the Southeast Como Improvement Agency Land Committee meeting on Dec. 2 and had strong support for the building given the restorative nature of the project.

“This project is extraordinary in that no other for-profit developer has ever offered one of the neighborhoods a chunk of real estate,” Crawford said. “It’s a concrete benefit because it actually is something that will benefit the community to have this center … and it’s specifically focused on Como.”

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