Wells Building sale removes resources from campus

The Alden H. Smith house designed was in 1887. It became Davies Mortuary when the owner died in 1907 and has served many other purposes since the 1970s, most notably as a set for the movie Drop Dead Fred. Photo credit: Benjamin Pecka

Minneapolis City Council accepted MCTC’s proposal to facilitate the pass-through sale of the Alden H. Smith House and adjacent lots to a private developer committed to preserving the historic site. The council voted unanimously to negotiate the redevelopment with an exclusive buyer that includes the Urban Farm Collective’s student garden and Black Box Theater on campus.

After commissioning over a dozen reports for potential campus uses and their associated costs, MCTC made a capital bonding request in order to rehabilitate and maintain the building for campus use in 2010, but the State of Minnesota did not approve the funding.

MCTC decided to no longer pursue capital bonding and found that the only financially viable option to prevent the building from rapidly deteriorating was to sell it to a private developer.

Estimated costs to restore the Wells Building totals nearly $7 million and annual operating costs are in excess of $90,000.

The 2011 master facility plan identifies the property as the school’s biggest challenge because the historic mansion is in danger of falling into such disrepair that it would require demolition.

The Wells Center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was purchased by Minneapolis Community College Foundation in 1993. Harmon Place was formerly a mansion district and the Alden H. Smith House is the only surviving building, according City of Minneapolis records.

A 2014 study determined that the lots at 1400 Yale Place and 45 Spruce Street would need to be sold along with 1403 Harmon Place. Adding the two parcels provides opportunity for new development and helps off-set the high cost of renovating and preserving the historic site.

The market value of the mansion is negative $3.3 million but the combined value of the three lots is a negative $1.5 million.

City of Minneapolis voted to purchase the land from the State of Minnesota June 30 and approved the final sale terms on Aug. 18. Three lots were sold to W + Noordijk, LLC for one dollar under the condition that the Smith house is rehabilitated following historic preservation guidelines and that multi-family housing is developed on the adjacent lots.

Multi-family housing will provide around 90,000 square feet of new living space for the Loring Park neighborhood and include between 65 and 80 units. The mansion will be integrated into the overall design and include seven to ten apartments in the upper floors. All units will be sold at market rate.

Funds spent on the maintenance of these properties will be reallocated to other projects identified in the Comprehensive Facilities Plan that will better serve the students than the Wells Building, MCTC said in a press release.

1400 Yale Place became home to the Urban Farm Collective’s student garden in 2014, and distributed around 1000 pounds of food per year to students on a budget of between $300 and $500. MCTC is storing the club’s resources until a suitable new location is found.

Currently, the proposal is to move the garden to the horseshoe pit in Loring Park. The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board is considering repurposing the park area because it is under-utilized by the community. Under the plan, Urban Farm Collective would donate their shed, tools, planters and irrigation controls and manage the plot with Friends of Loring Park, who heard the plan on Sep. 13.

The current proposal is to remove three out of four horseshoe pits because they are underutilized by the community.

Image courtesy of Urban Farm Collective

The current proposal is to remove three out of four horseshoe pits because they are underutilized by the community.

Image courtesy of Urban Farm Collective

The Black Box Theater at 45 Spruce Place will be separated from the Whitney Fine Arts Center and demolished. Accommodations for Metropolitan State University’s theater program will be made in Theater F.1200 and room F.1400 in the Whitney Fine Arts Center and H.0800 in Helland Center.

“We are excited about the opportunity to preserve this historic asset and ensure it remains a part of the neighborhood for the foreseeable future,” said MCTC President Sharon Pierce in a press release.

The final deal closes within twelve months and construction is to be completed within two years of closing. Total cost of restoration and construction is expected to reach around $21 million.

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