There’s been a low-key response, at least so far, to a proposal to redevelop the former Sholom Home East at 1554 Midway Parkway as an apartment/retail complex.
Recently, a small group of neighbors met informally with Rich Pakonen and Clint Blaiser, developers who formed a partnership to pursue the project and signed a purchase agreement with the site’s owner, the Sholom Community Alliance.
Because there’s been controversy surrounding the future of the former senior care center, Pakonen said he and Blaiser sought feedback on their plans as early as possible.
“We’re not interested in pursuing this unless there’s public support,” said Pakonen, adding, “there are plenty of other development opportunities out there.” (Pakonen’s Pak Properties re-developed the historic Lowry Building in downtown St. Paul as condominium housing. Blaiser is a partner with the Halvorson and Blaiser Group, which manages about 2,000 apartment units across the Twin Cities.)
Pakonen and Blaiser envision a high-quality, 110-unit apartment building that will appeal to a diverse group of residents, including graduate students and young families with children.
In addition to assessing neighborhood reaction, the developers are also conducting a due diligence evaluation of the property before determining the feasibility of the project.
A neighborhood fixture since 1922, the Sholom Home has been vacant since the nonprofit opened a new campus at Otto and West Seventh Street 18 months ago. In October 2008 a social service agency, RS Eden, withdrew its proposal to establish transitional housing at the Midway Parkway location for its clients, some of whom are chemically dependent, in the face of vehement opposition by a group of nearby residents.
The site already is zoned for multi-family residential housing. However, the retail facilities and fitness center being considered would probably require a variance, in which case the city of St. Paul likely would seek input from the neighborhood and the District 10 Como Community Council.
Parking and traffic congestion were the top issues cited by neighbors at the meeting with developers.
Greg Lauer, who lives on Arona Street, said, “I think the developers wanted to gauge neighborhood reaction, but not a lot had been fleshed out yet, so there wasn’t much to react to. Some people would prefer to see owner-occupied housing on the site, but the developers said there is zero financing available for condominium projects. All things considered, this may be the best we can hope for.”
Jon Knox, who lives on Almond Avenue, immediately adjacent to the Sholom property, said he was reassured by the developers’ commitment to the ongoing management of the property. “I also liked hearing that they intend to house their own parking on site, rather than relying on on-street parking.”
Knox chairs the District 10 Council Board, but he stressed both that the opinions he expressed were strictly his own and that the board has no formal proposal regarding the site before it.
Mary Montagne, a Canfield Street resident, misses her former neighbor and would prefer that senior housing or assisted-living accommodations go into the facility. As for the current proposal, “It could be worse, it could be better,” she says, “I’m waiting to hear more.”
In a news release, the Sholom Community Alliance said that it received three offers after reducing the price of the property. “Our board of directors accepted this offer because they believe that Rich Pakonen and Clint Blaiser are committed, not only to the neighborhood that we were part of for so many years, but to the greater St. Paul community as well,” said Burt Garr, interim CEO.
Roger Bergerson, a former newspaper reporter, is a freelance writer and longtime Como resident. He enjoys researching and writing about local history.