What were once luxury apartments became a depressing eyesore. Now new life is being breathed into the three-story brownstone near the corner of Park and E. Franklin avenues.
The century-old apartment building at 628 E. Franklin Av. has been vacant, occasionally boarded and fully gutted for nearly 25 years. Would-be developers have come and gone, stymied by financing troubles and legal squabbles.
"It's been a hot spot for squatters and for vandalism," said Maggy Otte, community development projects manager at HOPE Community, a nonprofit that has rehabbed hundreds of affordable apartments in the vicinity. "I think it communicates something about how the city has left this to be an eyesore, to be a blight on this community."
The building has passed in and out of city ownership since 2000.
Last summer, plans were set in motion to sell it to City of Lakes Community Land Trust and HOPE Community. The sale was completed in the fall with substantial assistance from the city, including $1.3 million through the federal Community Development Block Grant and $2.4 million in American Rescue Plan funding.
The goal is to convert the building into seven condo units affordable to households earning at or below 60% area median income, or $40,000 to $60,000.
Construction is now underway and due for completion in October. The finished homes — six family-sized three-bedroom condos and one one-bedroom condo — are expected to be sold late this year or early 2024.
The building was constructed in 1904 and is eligible for listing on the National Historic Register. The redevelopment will include a wheelchair-accessible back entrance, but the rest of the exterior will be restored to its original appearance, with detailed brickwork on the façade and quoining around the corners, said architect Marnie Peichel.
"It's been a very challenging project, but a very fun project to be able to work on," she said. "It's been this infamous building that everyone knows is there, and it's this cool-looking building where we're all waiting for something to happen."
HOPE will prioritize potential buyers who have been longtime renters in the surrounding Phillips community.
Homeownership is a way to build wealth. But for many, with real estate prices so high, the goal is out of reach, said HOPE Executive Director Shannon Smith Jones. "I'm really excited that in this space, we'll be able to make something available to those that normally don't have access."
The Twin Cities area has some of the most pronounced racial disparities in homeownership in the country because of centuries of policy excluding people of color from opportunities to build generational wealth, according to Roxanne Kimball, the city's manager of residential and real estate development.
As a result, the parts of Minneapolis where redlining concentrated people of color tend to be the same places where the foreclosure crisis of 2008 hit hardest and where investment-driven purchases of single-family homes are causing property values to rapidly outstrip local income growth: north and south-central Minneapolis.
The city considers its investment part of its Minneapolis Homes strategy to eliminate racial disparities in homeownership.