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Macalester’s High Winds Fund may purchase nearby property

The High Winds Fund at Macalester was established in 1956 through a gift from Dewitt Wallace, in an effort to provide a strong voice for neighborhood preservation, development and redevelopment.

Since then, High Winds has played a key role in the evolution of Macalester’s neighborhood, buying and preserving houses in danger of demolition, developing successful commercial properties, and advocating for pedestrian safety improvements like the medians on Grand and Snelling Avenues.

In particular, High Winds has paid attention to the commercial blocks of Grand Avenue directly to the west of campus, and was involved in the recruitment and development of the current Patagonia store, French Meadow, in addition to the Grand Cambridge Apartments/Pad Thai development.

One property near campus that High Winds does not currently own, but has an eye on, is a building near campus that appears to be empty. This is the old apartment and commercial retail building that formerly housed Everest on Grand, located behind GDD and next to the Pad Thai parking lot.

Thomas Welna, the director of the High Winds Fund, explained the current situation.

“Last April, the building was condemned—there were a couple of appeals, but the condemnation stood. There was nothing done on it over the summer, and sometime in August, there was a notice that the water would be shut off because of a plumbing problem. I’m not sure if it was fixed, and the day [it was supposed to be fixed], a notice went up declaring it a nuisance property,” Welna said.

Welna explained that although the condemnation does not necessarily mean that the building will be demolished, it does mean that the city of St. Paul is keeping watch on the property and may eventually demolish it if it is not fixed, improved or redeveloped.

“No one should expect it to come down anytime soon—private property ranks really high in our legal system, and if a building owner doesn’t get what they want, they can turn to a judge and ask for an injunction to stop the demolition,” Welna said.

At this point in the legal process, it’s not possible to determine exactly what will occur with the dilapidated property, and High Winds is still on the sidelines at this point.

“We are property owners nearby but have no authority, but we have offered many times over the last 30 years to purchase the property, and remain interested. We made an offer at well above its market value, and it was soundly rejected,” Welna explained.

What’s most important to High Winds’s mission, though, is the maintenance of neighborhood property.

“We would not mind if the current owners or a new owner would invest in that piece of land and put up something decent—that would be fine. We don’t need to own it, and are more concerned with the overall quality of the neighborhood,” Welna said.

The string of new businesses in that section of Grand has continued to see success, and Welna hopes the trend continues.

“We have great things going on across the street; the Meat Shop just went in, as well as Erbert and Gerbert’s, and there is lots going on that is positive, while that property continues to slide in the other direction,” Welna said.

Possibility at Snelling and Grand

Although High Winds is not currently soliciting purchase of the building behind GDD, it is actively involved in a potential property acquisition at another nearby location—at a highly visible corner of Snelling and Grand, to be exact. Stoltz Dry Cleaners could, in the future, be the site of a new High Winds-sponsored development.

“We are in conversation with the current owners, and are doing our due diligence. We’re seeing what the potential environmental cleanup would be before we finalize any deals,” Welna said.

The well-trafficked corner lot was occupied by an gas station and mechanic shop for years before housing the current dry cleaning business,and asa result would require a yet to be determined level of environmental rehabilitation an on-site mitigation before any redevelopment could occur.

“We don’t want to take on a huge liability, but we are High Winds, and we have a mission. If it turns out that there is a serious toxic mess on our doorstep, we want to be a part of making sure it gets cleaned up,” Welna said.

At this time, Welna said, environmental consultants are preparing an assessment and cleanup proposal, and the report should be finished by mid to late December. The timeline is still uncertain, however.

“If we moved quickly to purchase it, we’d have to do everything sooner, or we could purchase it and let it sit for a period of time, so re-development could beafew years down the road. We also may delay buying it for some period of time—we don’t know the outcome yet,” Welna said.

If High Winds does ultimately purchase and move to repurpose the property, there are a number of potential visions for the site. The exact specifications of a new building on the Stoltz Dry Cleaners site are very much to be determined. For example, one possible use is non-college apartments or office space.

“It would be a mixed-use building, and potentially a similar arrangement to the Grand Cambridge Apartments, with two to three stories of student housing and a first story of retail,” Welna explained.

However, the amount of retail on the first story is definitely up in the air at this point.

“The corner already has a nice amount of retail, and we don’t want to add too much—there’s a nice variety and mix of businesses already. We don’t know how much, if any, we want to add,” Welna said. However, Welna joked, “It probably won’t be a dry cleaners!”

October 23, 2015

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