Sunday, December 11, 2011

Penn Avenue Redevelopment Photo Tour

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

In a previous post, I began to take a look at the city's proposal for what it would consider redevelopment along Penn Avenue.  And while I'm glad to see needed focus placed on a community corridor, I have to question what part of this plan actually constitutes redevelopment.  The redevelopment area will include uses of properties for "housing, commercial/retail uses, and shared parking."  Clearly some of the properties are entirely appropriate for things like retail or parking, such as the two vacant parcels photographed above.  3215 and 3205 Penn Avenue North, just south of Union Liquors, are prime parcels for commercial/retail and parking expansion.

(And while they're at it, I'd love to see that spirit shop go the way of the dodo.  I went in there for the first and last time the other weekend and it was possibly the most distasteful such shop in all of Minneapolis.  I find that some liquor stores have dust on the $50 bottles of wine or the higher-end beers.  Union's level of wine that's too classy to be purchased on a regular basis starts off in the eight-dollar range.  Things go downhill from there.)

At least from the exterior, it's hard to see what the city would do with 3229 Penn Avenue North, the duplex pictured above.  A cursory examination of this and many similar properties leads one to believe there is a three-step process in place
  1. CPED acquires a property
  2. ?  
  3. Presto!  Redevelopment.
So before we get too far into the process, the community deserves to hear more from the city about that second step - and we need to be at the table about what that redevelopment looks like and how to get there.  While there are plenty of parcels that make complete sense for acquisition (and some of those for demolition) there are some that leave me scratching my head.  If readers feel the same way, or ideally if this post can be used to educate each other about these properties, please chime in.

And now we continue with the rest of the tour...

(No photos taken of 2904 and 2934 Penn Avenue North, two vacant parcels.)

2958 Queen Avenue North
2954 Queen Avenue North
2934 Queen Avenue North
2607 Penn Avenue North
2607 Penn, by the way, is inhabited by some great owner-occupants and is one where once again I have to ask what the plan is here.  I could be persuaded that owner-occupants should be bought out or encouraged to leave if there is a redevelopment plan that is supported by the community and appropriately funded, I strongly oppose relocation simply based on speculation.

3201 Oliver Avenue North, I think.  These vacant lots can all start to look the same after a while.
3222 Penn Avenue North

(No photos taken of vacant lots 2718 and 2720 Penn Avenue North)

2615 Oliver Avenue North
2627 Oliver Avenue North
2635 Oliver Avenue North
2639 Oliver Avenue North

A few thoughts about this stretch of a few houses along Oliver:  Some, like 2615, would seem like rehab is possible.  Others, like 2639, look like they could be too far beyond repair (even if they were owned by someone better than Mahmood Khan).  And 2627 Oliver could be one that even if the demo/rehab question could go either way, one might opt for demolition because the house is crammed in on a tiny lot.

2624 Penn Avenue North, a likely demo candidate.
2634 Penn Avenue North
2640 Penn Avenue North...these two are on the list because why?
2511 Penn Avenue North
2520 Penn Avenue North
2522 Penn Avenue North
And here we have the Reitman Twins of Penn Avenue, the ugliest houses so far and perhaps the only two properties that were actually improved by the tornado.  At least now they have more than one color adorning the exterior.  The houses may be too worthless to Reitman to actually repair, but watch him squeeze every penny he can out of the city because of their supposed value if they are to be acquired.  Hopefully they can stick him with the demo fees, and deservedly so.

And now that we've covered the northern stretch from 26th to the Lowry corridor, let's jump to the south end of the project and work our way back to the 26th/Penn/Broadway node.

1237 Penn Avenue North

1237 Penn is perhaps the most perplexing addition to the list of desired acquisitions.  It's adjacent to a parcel owned by CPED, which has been vacant long?  Ten, fifteen years?  More?  The house is visually appealing, or at least distinctive, and does not appear to be in any serious state of disrepair.  So why is it even included here?  This one, among others, absolutely requires an explanation from the city about what the plans are.

Or we could just leave it off the list since it looks to be working out just fine.

1819 Penn Avenue North

And here we have another property whose inclusion on the list leaves more questions than answers.  It's homesteaded and seems to be kept up quite well.

1900 Penn Avenue North; the business has already relocated and a raze order is issued.
1906 Queen sustained enough damage that this little guy might need to go.
2200 Golden Valley Road
1911 Penn Avenue North
1915 Penn Avenue North

Obviously it makes sense to pick up 2200 GVR, especially if redevelopment of some kind is coming to Penn, and 1900 across the street is being acquired.  And the Dream Home with arson damage should come down yesterday.  But what's wrong with 1915 Penn?  Unless maybe someone's got a "demolish one, get the second half off" coupon that will expire if not used on the next major city initiative.

Here we have 2020, 2101, and 2131 Penn Avenue North, three vacant lots that are virtually indistinguishable.

2110 Penn Avenue North
2221 Penn Avenue North
They haven't finished repairs, but kept out the for rent sign, just in case.
2315 Penn Avenue North
2315 Penn may just be the loneliest house on the whole list.  It's surrounded on each side by multiple vacant lots. I can picture someone in an office saying, "Let's acquire this so we have six or so continuous lots for a project."  But let's remember something folks:  vacant lots should not be normal.

2327 Penn Avenue North
I stand corrected.  Keith Reitman owns worse-looking properties than the ones on 26th and Penn.  The one to the north of 2327 is his too, by the way, as well as everything right up to the corner

2339-41 Penn Avenue North
Take a gander at that roof.  Yeah, I can't picture Reitman fixing that either.

2335 Penn Avenue North

"Hey Bob, what are you doing today?"
"Got a backhoe of doom, gonna tear down a few Reitman properties."
"What about that nice one in the middle?"
"Well, I got the bulldozer today and a full tank of gas.  Sure be a damned shame if I didn't take full advantage of that, ya know?"
"Yep, wanna tear 'er down too?"
"You know it."

The sooner the Reitman variable gets removed from the redevelopment scene, the better, but I'm still not sure this one needs to come down.

2306 Penn Avenue North

2306 has features that, in my opinion, would set the bar for demolition very high indeed.  Hennepin County owns it though, so let's hope they do the right thing.

No picture of 2214 Penn, vacant land, taken.

2202 Penn Avenue North
And there we have the Penn Avenue Development Plan pictorial, as brought to you by the Hawthorne Hawkman.


  1. This is what does not make sense to me. Some of this looks good, some needs rehab, and some is clearly bad. What they are proposing is a HUGE swath of urban fabric. I doubt we have the money to completely rebuild that many blocks. So why don't we keep what is good, rehab what can be rehabbed, and do new development on what is already vacant or is bad and needs to come down. That seems so simple and logical. What am I missing?

    Wait. I just answered my own question. A plan. What is the plan? I really can't say what I do or do not support if there is not a plan behind this (beyond just acquisition and demolition).

  2. The CPED-owned parcels adjacent to 1237 Penn actually have been vacant since at least 1989-90, though one may have been cleared as far back as 1979.

    The Conoco gas station at the SW corner of Plymouth & Penn (2201 Plymouth) was a brownfield cleanup situation, so I understand the acquisition of that. On the other hand, I can't find any good reason why 1245 Penn (originally an attractive 1920s duplex that was a near-carbon copy of 1237 Penn) was pre-emptively acquired and demolished, other than the property was partially in a polluted area where the gas station's underground storage tanks had leaked and "bloomed." The same is true of 1246 Queen (the land is now aggregated into 2215 Plymouth), which was a 1920s single-family home.

    2215 Plymouth itself was a combination residential/commercial building known as Plymouth Avenue Medical Center. It consisted of the doctor's residence, 1254 Queen Avenue, an attractive single-family residence, with an attached clinic off the back facing Plymouth.

    The clinic ran into financial problems by the late 1980s and its then-owner, Thomas Johnson Jr., attempted to sell the property to notorious porn emperor Ferris Alexander, who in turn hoped to rezone the property so he could operate a "health club." Homewood neighbors rightly saw "health club" as code words for "massage parlor" and "house of prostitution." Those neighbors, with the support of then-CM Van White, made sure this sale never came to pass. It appears Johnson then let the property go back to the bank, which then sold it to the city around 1990, who immediately demolished it.

    Speaking of Homewood, I have to believe that 1237 Penn would be considered a "contributing structure" to the proposed Homewood Historic District laid out by the Historic Preservation Committee just last year. It was one of a row of eight very nice duplexes, of which only six still stand.

  3. A strong, well thought out plan should be a prerequisite for any acquisition of private property. Part of the problem is people like Reitman who buy up properties in hopes of cashing in as soon as the planning process goes public. Unfortunately, CPED and the DOT are also full of old horses that are used to bulldozing their way without public involvement.(Another story).

    This tour has yet to establish that the properties on Penn are worthwhile to prevent a Penn Ave redevelopment. Moreover, what we see are vacant lots and slumlord owned rental units with incompatible renovations or outright blight. Certainly not enough substance to believe that this corridor will revitalize anytime in the near future. In a broader view, redevelopment on Penn may benefit the entire community. If we never made sacrifices to improve transit alternatives in the community we would still be using cow paths.

    Yes, their are a few owner occupied structures that have redeemable qualities. Perhaps these could be used to infill the huge amount of vacant lots we have already created in our neighborhoods just as was done to create the Jordan Jr. High and Park.

    Coming to a vacant lot near you!

  4. Photos for the missing properties have been added, the "post in progress" notification has been removed.


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