City of Lakes building developers seek historic status

Apartment project would preserve former Abbott Hospital

STEVENS SQUARE — After several false starts over four years, the developers of the City of Lakes building at 110 E. 18th St. say they now have a workable plan to convert the vacant health care facility into about 125 market-rate apartments.

It’s a plan that hinges on their bid to achieve national historic status for the site, which includes the original Abbott Hospital built in 1910, known as the Dunwoody Building, and four additions, the last added in 1957.

The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) voted June 10 to approve the plans presented by the developer. But state and federal approval for an entry in the National Register of Historic Places — accompanied by a 20 percent federal tax credit for rehabilitation work — may not come for several months.

“We need the financial help, to tell you the truth,” said Amri Elsafy, one of the Gateway Commons partners, the developer behind the project, now known as Dunwoody Apartments.

Charlene Roise, president of Hess Roise historical consultants, said meetings with state and federal officials left her confident the historic status would be approved.

“We don’t take on a project that we don’t think has exceptional odds,” Roise said.

It has been a long road for Dunwoody Apartments since Gateway Commons purchased the property in January 2004 with plans to build condominiums on the site.

The project, at one point known as Fusion Flats, went through several iterations before the condo market crashed. Gateway Commons was twice granted approval by the Heritage Preservation Commission for work at the site, in 2005 and 2007, but let the permits expire while plans were reworked.

Repeated delays, while financially taxing on Gateway Commons, may have ultimately been for the best, Elsafy said. Had Fusion Flats been completed, the condominiums would have hit the market at around the same time condo sales

The delays also were hard on neighbors, who complained that the building attracted crime during the years it sat vacant. Gateway Commons, working with Minneapolis Police and the Stevens Square Community Organization (SSCO), agreed in late 2007 to increase security and install a fence around the site.

SSCO Board Member Karen Ives said the site seemed to have so much potential that it was that much more frustrating when the project stagnated.

“I think it’s really important for the project to happen,” Ives said. “I’d hate to see all their investments evaporate.”

In May, the SSCO Board of Directors unanimously recommended approval of the Dunwoody Apartment project to the HPC.

Board Member Diane Hansen, the owner of Copenhagen Properties with several buildings in the Stevens Square and Loring Park neighborhoods, said Dunwoody Apartments would fill a gap in the neighborhood apartment market. Stevens Square, the city’s most densely populated neighborhood, is known for historic apartment buildings constructed in the 1910s and ’20s.

“If people want a bigger place with slightly better amenities, they pretty much have to move out of the neighborhood,” Hansen said.

By creating a middle ground between the existing apartment stock and the neighborhood’s condominiums, Dunwoody Apartments could help Stevens Square retain a population of young Downtown workers, she said.

Elsafy said apartments will range from $650 to $750 per month for a studio up to $1,000 to $1,100 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. That’s roughly $100–$150 per month more than a typical Stevens Square apartment, he said.

For that, they will offer amenities like modern appliances, exercise and party rooms, indoor bicycle storage and underground parking — a real premium on the jam-packed streets of Stevens Square.