What’s next for 807 Broadway? Logan Park neighbors exploring potential for former Minneapolis Public Schools administration building

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The Twin Cities doesn’t have many buildings like 807 Broadway St. NE anymore. The 186,000 square-foot brick structure—actually 250,000 square feet, if you add in the outbuildings—was built in the early 1900s as a light bulb factory and home to the Mazda Lamp Company.

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) bought it in 1930 and moved its administration staff and educational staff there in 1948. MPS moved out 63 years later; earlier this year, in fact, relocating 300-plus workers to new quarters in North Minneapolis. Now the school district wants to sell it.

Because of its size and the potential impact of a new use on the surrounding residential neighborhoods—807 is in Logan Park Neighborhood—the City of Minneapolis’ Community Planning and Economic Development Department (CPED) recently forged an agreement with MPS to work for the school district, managing the marketing and evaluating potential redevelopment offers.

And that’s where neighborhood residents say they want some input.

“The neighborhood has been talking ever since the school board made its decision [to move out], going on two years ago,” said Pat Vogel, who co-chairs the 807 Task Force. (The task force is an offshoot of the Logan Park Neighborhood Association.) “We didn’t call ourselves a task force until July, 2012. The neighborhood wants it reused, not turned into housing, not a WalMart. A multi-tenanted building would be a benefit to Northeast, especially if it brought in jobs and possibly had a community center component.

“We’ve floated all sorts of ideas,” Vogel added. “In two years of brainstorming some very interesting ideas came out, some more practical than others. Northeast does not have a full service medical clinic or Workforce Center. A good anchor tenant might be Hennepin County or the State of Minnesota. No government entity that we know of is jumping to buy it, and the bottom line is that somebody has to buy it. But the building is structurally sound. We talked with a man from the Ryan Companies, who said they had originally recommended that the school district rehab it, rather than sell it. There are some issues with the HVAC [heating ventilation, air conditioning] and it needs a new roof, but it’s in good shape.”

Logan task force members sent a letter to MPS in August, 2012, making it clear that neighbors want to be involved in the process and informed of meetings and developments. In their letter, signed by Vogel, Paula Allan (Logan Park Neighborhood Association chair), Mary Rose Ciatti, Cheryl Kozicky, Suzanne Robinson, and Donna Norberg, they noted that “the School Administration building had been a resource and stabilizing influence in Logan Park and the surrounding neighborhoods for over 70 years. Your departure represents a significant impact on the community.” Although housing had been “mentioned as a reuse for 807,” they said they would oppose it. “We see a big-scale housing development as a large, impervious absentee landlord,” they wrote.

Vogel said that the city and school district have agreed that the community would be able to review CPED marketing materials and resulting developers’ bids. “We won’t get to vote but we will get to review them,” she said. “The school board owns the building and somebody could buy it tomorrow. Staff people have been very clear that if they get a good offer they like, it will go to the school board who will then vote on it.”

Task force members said they were delighted when, earlier this year, the project attracted three college students’ attention. Minneapolis College of Art and Design students Caitlin Sidey and Emily Keenan and University of Minnesota architecture major Megan Moss have all “adopted” the 807 Broadway building for school projects. Sidey and Keenan have produced a marketing brochure that will supplement CPED materials; the project satisfies an “Aesthetics of Sustainability” class requirement. Moss is developing presentation boards, plans and details for possible use of the building and its individual rooms. Sidey, Keenan and Moss have been regular task force meeting attendees and have toured the building with Chad Carr, MPS real estate and business operations manager.

Carr said in an email that district officials are “in the process of basically cleaning out 807. The first step in this was to reuse as much of the furniture and equipment as we could in the Davis Center, the new home to the MPS administrative staff. These items included office furniture, desk chairs, side chairs, storage cabinets, etc. Secondly, we had principals and head building engineers come to 807 and identify items they could use in their schools. This is still in process. Additionally, the Minnesota Federation of Teachers, MFT, received a lot of items from departments who were encouraged to save items electronically rather than in paper form. Such items included three-ring binders, file folders, paper trays, etc. Lastly, all usable items not able to be used by MPS will be brought to our warehouse for our semi-annual public sale to be held next spring.”

Haila Maze, CPED principal city planner, has been working with neighbors, the students, and the school district. She passed out a proposed timeline for the project at the Nov. 8 task force meeting. CPED is currently working on identifying and evaluating possible development outcomes and marketing strategies “based on community preferences, existing policy, market conditions and other factors,” and will soon develop marketing materials.

Maze said that CPED’s partnership with MPS is a “new thing.” To date, she added, the school district has largely been working through a broker as it has attempted to sell its buildings. “What prompted the change is that changing a school over to something else has a lot of community policy implications. This is a special site, not just a piece of real estate. The city has a background in selling buildings through a more elaborate process. We intend to involve the community and keep them in the discussion. This might be a new opportunity for a partnership between the city and school district.”

In addition to 807 Broadway, CPED is also marketing Northrup Elementary School in South Minneapolis for MPS.

Maze said, “807 is a special case, there is nothing quite like it. It’s complex and that makes a more in-depth process logical.” CPED and MPS will issue a Request for Offers (RFO), rather than CPED’s usual Request for Proposals (RFP); it is a hybrid that eliminates some of the procedural steps “to give the school district more flexibility. We will oversee things other than just price. There will be some definition of what we want to see. Some people might ask for public funds. We will answer their questions about financing assumptions. We will screen and evaluate offers. The school district will have the final call. We are working for them.”

Maze said the building is not historically designated and has many different wings. It is zoned industrial, with an industrial overlay district. “It is one of the most flexible sites in the city. There are not many sites of this scale that come open. The prospects are exciting.”

Signs indicating that the building is available should be up by the end of November, she added, and CPED plans to put out the RFO in mid-December. At the Nov. 8 task force meeting, she told the group, “This building is challenging. The property has a lot of complexity and there might be a lot of different options. We might get a wide range of offers. Part of our evaluation would be evaluating their [the developers’] capacity to do it. What have they done elsewhere? Did it work out?” She said that marketing materials will be posted on the city’s website. “We will contact the city’s list of developers, and will be trying as broad a list as possible. The community will have opportunity to see what’s going out. There will be a number of photos, a floor plan, the standard package.”

Also at the task force meeting, Moss, the U of M student, asked members why people have such strong feelings for the building. Allan said, “A lot of people from the neighborhood worked there for years and years. It was a comforting anchor tenant and a nice quiet hub of activity. Right now we’re looking at a loss of 300 people. Our thought was to replace them with something jobs generating. A number of people from around here walked to work.”

Vogel added, “It’s a cornerstone of the neighborhood. When you drive down Broadway and onto the side streets, it’s a defining structure. It blends with the park, the houses, and is age appropriate to the neighborhood. If somebody comes in and does a big high rise it would totally destroy the character of the area. Logan Park has a high concentration of 100-year old Victorian style houses.”

She added, “We have talked about event space and community space. We desire a mixed use plan.”

For information on the building’s marketing plan, Maze can be reached at haila.maze@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, or 612-673-2098. Chad Carr, from MPS, is at 612-668-0288 or chad.carr@mpls.k12.mn.us. The Logan Park task force’s e-mail is 807broadwaytaskforce@gmail.com.