The chocolate factory development fizzled. So did the curling center idea. But Ray Loftus is crossing his fingers that this time the development plan for the final acres of his family's farm — the last in the city of Savage — will stick.
Loftus, on behalf of his five siblings, has been trying since 2005 to sell the remaining 15 acres, a farm marooned at a busy intersection in the south metro suburb. Each proposal has fallen through, partly because the parcel is oddly shaped, dotted with wetlands and abutted by a water tower. The newest plan calls for an apartment complex for seniors called the Meadows Senior Living, and developers have already gotten preliminary approval from the City Council.
"They've got a new plan of attack for the land," Loftus said. "These guys seem really motivated to get it done."
The developer, Lilydale-based Southview Senior Communities, has 11 similar developments in the Twin Cities. The Savage plan calls for 164 apartments, including studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, with about 50% geared for independent living, 25% offering assisted living and 25% providing memory care.
Ben Welna, Southview's regional vice president of operations, said his company liked the property's location at the intersection of County roads 42 and 27, also known as Dakota Avenue.
"Proximity to amenities for the seniors is nice, with shopping and entertainment nearby," Welna said.
If all goes as planned, Southview would break ground in the fall and open in spring 2023, he said.
Savage Mayor Janet Williams said the senior apartments would be good for the city. The building is well-designed, she said.
"We continue to need this kind of housing as our city grows older," she said. "It will look good on that corner."
Loftus' great-grandfather, Thomas, an Irish immigrant, settled his family on 160 acres in current-day Savage acquired from a War of 1812 widow. The original deed, dated 1860, was passed down four generations, along with the acreage. At one point, the family's holdings spanned 600 acres.
Loftus took over the dairy farm operations in 1983. But problems were brewing for the family as debts mounted.
Savage officials bought 3 acres of Loftus land in 1980 to build a water tower, which Loftus said resulted in a special assessment in addition to real estate taxes. The sale brought on a zoning change, higher land valuations and higher taxes.
The Loftus family's assessment was $500,000, which came with an annual interest rate of 8%. By 1987, Loftus said, his parents owed over $1 million.
Relatives began selling parcels to keep up with the tax burden.
Letting the dairy herd go
By 1996, without enough pasture to maintain dairy production, Loftus said he had to get rid of the cows, though a small herd of beef cattle remained until a couple of years ago.
Property taxes continue to be a driving factor in selling, Loftus said, adding that they just went up 10% this year.
The family declined to share the farm's asking price.
Williams said she grew up on a nearby dairy farm and knew the Loftuses as a nice family who attended her church. Her children worked at the farm doing chores through the years.
She said she hopes this project will bring resolution for the family.
Earlier attempts at a sale for redevelopment ran into a variety of challenges.
When Abdallah Candies wanted to build a chocolate factory and showroom on the parcel years ago, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) halted the project to protect adjacent wetlands.
DNR officials told Loftus the largest, highest-quality wetland couldn't be touched because its water flows into the Mississippi River, so the candy-maker moved to Apple Valley.
In 2019, Prior Lake-based developer Copper Creek proposed a 55,000-square-foot, $15 million facility that included what would have been the largest year-round curling center in the United States. The deal failed to make it through the preliminary planning phases with the city, said Bryan Tucker, Savage's planning and economic development administrator.
Copper Creek withdrew its plans.
Skirting the wetlands
Greg Schweich, president of Copper Creek, said the uncertainty surrounding entertainment and restaurants during the pandemic sank the project.
The senior apartment proposal is under DNR review, but Southview's Welna said he doesn't anticipate insurmountable problems because the buildings skirt the wetlands.
Loftus said the farm's demolition, including a 1950s-era barn, will be disheartening for some.
"It will be a sad day when everything gets knocked down," he said. "It's progress … there's not much you can do about it."
One family member, though, will still have a presence. Tom Loftus, Ray Loftus' brother, said he and his wife plan to move into the senior apartments.
We "talked it over and thought it'd be nice to be back on the farm again," Tom Loftus said.
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781