New life for Linnea Home

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If Ray Peterson has his way, the name Linnea will not disappear from the local landscape.

Peterson, who has lived in St. Anthony Park for 25 years, wants to preserve the building at 2040 W. Como Ave. that until recently housed the Twin City Linnea Home. That facility closed Oct. 21 and went up for sale.

Peterson and a group of investors hope to purchase the Linnea Home and convert it to condominiums. The proposed facility would be called Linnea Gardens and would contain about 20 units ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet each.

The group is negotiating with Ecumen, the company that owned and managed Linnea Home, and Peterson hopes they will have a signed purchase agreement by Feb. 1.

When Peterson learned that the Linnea Home property was for sale, he got on the phone. “I just felt like it would be a shame for the neighborhood to lose that building,” he says, “and I was afraid a developer might come in and level it.”

His first call was to Doug Derr of CIS Architects, a company that specializes in converting buildings for condominiums. Derr looked at the building and said he thought a conversion could work.

Peterson describes himself as a preservationist, an orientation that led him and his wife, Terri, to buy an 1886 vintage house and restore it. “I prefer to try and improve something that’s there rather than tear it down and put up something new,” he says.

Peterson sees the Linnea Home, which was built in 1917, as a perfect candidate for preservation. “It’s a great looking building,” he says, “and the engineers we’ve had look at it say that it’s structurally sound.”

The Linnea Home originally served as a boarding house for Swedish immigrant women. By the 1960s it had evolved into a care center for the elderly.

According to Peterson, the way the building is laid out, including the placement of load-bearing walls, means that a conversion to condominiums could not preserve the existing rooms. Instead, the interior would have to be gutted.

“We would try to save and reuse anything that’s architecturally significant,” he says, including much of the building’s oak and maple flooring. Energy-efficient windows would replace the existing ones. The rest of the building’s exterior, Peterson says, would change very little.

Peterson says their group wants to create living units that will have all the modern conveniences people look for, but in a building with historical significance. And they want the housing to be affordable.

“We see a two-fold market for these units,” he says. “One is people who live here and are ready to move out of their homes but who would like to stay in the neighborhood. The other is people who want to move into the neighborhood but can’t afford a single-family residence.

“St. Anthony Park is a great place to live, but right now it doesn’t provide many opportunities for entry-level housing.”

Peterson says the Linnea property is already properly zoned for condominiums. He noted that one potential obstacle to the project is parking. The city requires 1.5 spaces of off-street parking per unit. Because the existing parking lot presents some problems, the project may require a variance.

“We recognize that in any project like this, many details will need to be worked out,” Peterson says. “But we’re confident that our vision can be achieved.”

He said that his group wants to work closely with the neighborhood to gain their support and to benefit from their suggestions. “Once negotiations with Ecumen are complete, we want to meet with the Community Council to share our plans. And we’ll hold neighborhood meetings to get everyone’s input.”

Peterson says that if the sale and closing can be completed soon, the group hopes to complete construction by the end of the year.

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