Monday, October 1, 2012

Why is This Property Being Demolished?

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

No, honestly.  I really want to know.  The mere prospect of demolition here is entirely baffling to me.  The property in question, 2306 Penn Avenue North, is one of the nicest houses on the block.  In fact, after its pending demolition, there will be only one other house on that side of the street.  And it's not like that one is so grand.

If I had to pick which house to tear down, I'd move this family into the other house and get rid of this one.
Curtains covered the windows at 2306, so I couldn't see inside to know if there are any historical features left in the interior.  Based on the exterior, I'd guess there are.  For instance...

It looks like the original siding is largely intact.  Then again, the City interprets this as a lead hazard in need of demolition.

Clearly there is some roof damage, but nothing insurmountable.
 Again, why is 2306 Penn Avenue North slated for demolition?  This area was in the middle of the tornado, and quite a few properties around it were damaged beyond repair.  Most of those have been torn down, but nothing has been constructed in their place.  When you tear down enough houses on a block without rebuilding, then the remaining structures start to look like they're the nonconforming properties and grassy lots become the norm.  Maybe that's part of what's happening here.

When 2306 gets demolished, Keith Reitman will have the nicest house on the block.  I will never forgive the City of Minneapolis for making it necessary to type that sentence.

One photo, two vacant lots.

Another vacant lot between these two homes.

I predicted some time ago that this house would be so lonely that the City would eventually tear it down just to have contiguous vacant lots.

This house should and will likely be torn down, and there's another vacant lot to the south of it.

On the odd side of 23xx Penn, there are ten parcels.  Once the southernmost structure is torn down, only three will have buildings on them.  Vacant lots spread like leprosy.

I still don't think my theory about vacant lots begetting vacant lots is a sufficient answer to why this house in particular needs to go.  So let's start with the most benign reasons for demolition and work our way towards our likely answer.

First, is it reasonable to assume that the interior is so damaged that the structure is beyond repair?  No.  At least based on the houses I've seen that are on the verge of demolition, the exterior hints at an inside that is if not intact than certainly reparable.  Until I know otherwise, I'm assuming that's the case here.

Maybe the land is needed for another use.  The Five Points building sits to the north, and perhaps they need parking.  Although given the difficulties in filling the building with tenants, that doesn't seem necessary yet.  The parcel sits adjacent to 2101 West Broadway, which was just demolished.  But combining the two into one parcel or even into one use seems like an awfully clumsy way to do site assembly.  What if light rail comes down Penn and Broadway?  Would this property be in the way?  Maybe, maybe not, but we are still left with the question of why tear it down now?  After all, it is City-owned so there's no risk of losing it to anyone we don't want mucking up that process.  We could just wait until the route is known with certainty.

Having exhausted the innocuous theories, we move on to the next tier of possibilities.  2306 Penn Avenue North was a property listed on the Penn Avenue Redevelopment proposal.  That proposal had little, if anything, to do with actual redevelopment.  Instead, it was designed to allow the City of Minneapolis to seek State funding for the corridor.  Here is what I wrote about that plan, or lack thereof, in December of last year:
The funding is not in itself an end; the funding is a means to accomplish...what?

Obviously north Minneapolis could stand an infusion of state funds to help rehab, acquire, and demolish tornado-affected properties.  A community corridor like Penn is as good of a place as any to focus those resources.  So I actually would support the pursuit of the funds as long as there is a clearly defined plan that has been vetted by the communities where it would be implemented.  In the areas along Penn where neighborhood and city cluster partnerships occur, it's safe to say that has happened or will happen.  And the sooner we get rid of Reitman Row, the better.

But when city employees who present the plans say this is "not a specific proposal," don't pin down a definitive goal, and can't explain a framework for deciding what will happen with acquired properties, then we're just not ready to proceed.  The city should be beholden to the constituents in the affected area.  Without a better plan in place, I worry that they will go after state money and then be more committed to their funding application than to the neighborhoods they serve.
 And THIS is precisely the reason I believe 2306 Penn Avenue North is being torn down.  Whether the City was successful in its pursuit of State funding for the Penn Avenue redevelopment area, they still have a fair amount of Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funds remaining - so much so that they are expanding the NSP III service area.  One of the criticisms I have heard from others, and have made myself, about NSP is that the City is so worried about spending down those funds that they will contract them on a property just to get the money allocated - never mind if that action is appropriate for the community or not.

I believe that this house is on the verge of demolition because the City of Minneapolis is eager to spend down its NSP allocation before it must be returned to the federal government.  But presumably it would cost even more in NSP money to refurbish than tear down, which would in turn accomplish the goal of spending as much as possible ahead of forfeiting the funds.

So again I ask, why is 2306 Penn Avenue North being demolished?


  1. Obviously the City has big plans for this area that can not be disclosed to a mere resident taxpayer like yourself (or me).

    I mean it's not like their using your money to do, wait maybe some of it is.

    But it will certainly have no impact on your home or lifestyle, unless of course it becomes some of those low income tenement style housing units. I guess that's about all the city seems to fund around here.

    And besides we live in an open society where community planning is open to the public so that we can all be involved. Um...

    Actually, I guess the best thing to do is try and kiss up to some of those city planning folks so you can find out what the hell is going on because our Mayor and Councilman probably don't know or care and sure as hell wouldn't tell you if they did!

  2. Please discontinue blogging about 2306 Penn Avenue North. We are in the midst of negotiations surrounding this property. We cannot afford to have those negotiations put in jeopardy because of public blogging which will spur uninformed conversations. Once we can discuss 2306 Penn Avenue North further we will provide the needed information. Until then your cooperation will be greatly appreciated as we work through the process.

  3. Jeff, I received a message like that on my blog concerning the "Crap Hole" building on Lowry Ave. North. This is apparently a troll mimicking the voice of a city-higher up.

    Ignore it and save that house if you can.

  4. I don't know Jeff, why is this house ready for the backhoe?
    You are the fricken housing director. You tell us.
    Maybe if you actually did something, as opposed to say blog and manage a Facebook page, this demolition could be prevented.
    What the heck do we pay you for anyway?
    Do your job. Or do we have to go to Roberta Englund for everything?

  5. I love Roberta, she is always on the ball.

  6. I had the same reaction to anon 10:55. I doubted the veracity of the statement. And even if it were legit, my two issues here are that I despise unwarranted demolitions almost as much as a lack of transparency. The anonymous claim assuages neither concern.

    @anon 7:06, this property is in Willard-Hay. It's not covered by my job in Hawthorne nor by my role as a housing committee member in Jordan.

    @anon 9:14, Roberta does great things, but if you want a property saved from demolition she's the wrong person to call.

  7. @JNS, even I don't have the ability to stop this house from being demolished when a backhoe sits on the property and there is no buyer in sight. I'm hoping to use this house as an example of everything that's wrong with our city's attitude that older, historic (with a small h) homes are "disposable."

    I believe I'll be making a Freedom of Information Act request for the city staff reports of every home recommended for demolition in 2012.

  8. Did not see who in CPED or Regulatory Services takes these requests...but here's a place to start.

    Wrecking permits could be one possible source
    of this information although by the time the permit is issued, it's likely too late to stop
    the demolition.

  9. Agenda 21 man. It's the UNs city, not yours.

  10. How much i$ it anyway? I'm still shopping for a bottom market fixer upper. Seriously.

  11. Ray many homes are sold for just $1. Nicole Curtis just fixed up a home like this and she received it for a dollar.


  13. @Ray, it's not for sale. It's being demolished, if it hasn't already. Apparently it's part of an expansion plan by the Capri, which means if you want this house it would have to be moved. If you were to move it you could probably get it for free.

    @anon 12:07, I'm not seeing this address referenced in the link. Am I missing something?

  14. CM Schiff sent me the following email from a city staffer.

    "The property at 2306 Penn was acquired from the Hennepin County tax forfeiture list last year because it is part of the Capri Block redevelopment site, and that’s the primary reason for demolition as well. The acquisition and demolition for redevelopment is consistent with a community redevelopment vision developed in 2006 (, and incorporated into the West Broadway Alive plan adopted in 2008, as well as into the West Broadway Redevelopment Plan in 2009.

    "2306 Penn didn’t suffer as much tornado damage as others on the block, and we’re not using the FEMA grant for this demo specifically, but it is helping cover the demolition costs for the rest of the redevelopment site – properties that were damaged by the tornado and subsequent water infiltration.

    "We are also seeking to acquire for redevelopment the other house Jeff Skrenes notes at 2300 Penn. No NSP dollars have been invested in this assembly and demolition as Jeff speculates in his blog. I am a bit taken aback by the negativity on Jeff’s blog. This work has been the product of a great deal of sustained engagement with neighborhood organizations, business organizations (there was a meeting today about Penn-WBroadway redevelopment convened by the West Broadway Coalition), community leaders such as PCYC and the Capri , and open-to-all public meetings to define and implement a redevelopment vision for the area. Generally, there is strong support for redeveloping this block. With the Capri Theater and 5 Points buildings, historically-significant bookends have been retained, rehabbed and reactivated as an integral element of the block vision."

    1. To the "City Staffer"...

      What makes this community "Historically Significant" is not the remaining commercial bookends on West Broadway, but the built environment and richness of the residential housing that has supported generations of working class Minnesotans. These homesteaders are the stakeholders who need to be engaged rather than the politicians, developers, and non-profit groups that attend these well orchestrated meetings.

  15. It should be noted that I asked CMs Johnson, Hofstede, and Samuels the same question through the same mode of communication (tagging on FB). Johnson said she would inquire and get back to me but hadn't followed up yet. I received no response from Samuels or Hofstede.

  16. To the CPED staffer I have several responses:

    First, the document referenced is dated August of 2006. Development plans have changed drastically since then, as have community stakeholders.

    Second, I am generally far more receptive to housing demolitions when they are part of an overall plan of some sort. (such as an expansion of the Capri)

    Third, just because there is a development underway doesn't mean demolition is the appropriate fate for our houses. We demolished at least six houses that were in much better shape than this one, in order to build a parking lot for the MPS headquarters. While I'm happy with the new location, I don't believe enough was done to explore moving the houses instead of tearing them down.

    I understand that there are a whole host of considerations regarding moving a house. To which I would say that we ought to look at changing at least some of those regulations if they don't serve our community.

    Finally, in regards to the "negativity." It is my position that we do not do nearly enough to preserve our housing stock, especially in north Minneapolis. Furthermore, I believe that a throwaway culture within the City of Minneapolis is the primary culprit behind this deficit. CPED and other City entities have done many excellent things, and that should be made clear as well. My blogging is at least partially aimed at correcting where we fall short, however.

    Finally, I have been in meetings where we as a community have been pressured to find ways to spend NSP money. The Strib and PiPress have documented struggles to spend NSP funds. I have heard secondhand many sentiments that the pressure to spend such money trumps neighborhood concerns, and I'm giving voice to that concern so it is out there for public commentary.

  17. Since when does the City of Minneapolis communicate with it's citizens through "mystery staffers"? Why haven't we heard back from the North Side's Council Representatives rather than a cryptic message sent by way of a Council Member on the other side of the City? (Don, this is your district - Now that you have your cell phone back give Jeff a call.)

    Further, there is absolutely no content involved in this message directed to the question of WHAT the Cities intent for this land may be. The thinly veiled message simply begs the question "Don't you people trust us?". The answer is "Hell No!".

    Even if the City had a publicly supported Plan and needed access to this land, Why would they condemn and demo this structure (this city staffer seems to admit that the home is structurally sound) when it would be cheaper to fund a relocation of the structure onto one of the many vacant city lots already produced by the Cities recent urban renewal policies?

  18. This kind of thing really gets my goat. We go through all the trouble to hold community meetings, meet with stakeholders. Then when we feel we've checked every box someone who didn't pay attention early on cries foul. What should we do Jeff? Restart all the meetings so you can now attend and offer feedback? I think you aren't fair to the hard working employees who put the work in to make this happen to improve North Minneapolis through developments like Capri.

  19. OK, so they're going to "redevelop" a piece of land that is only tangentially attached in any way to there property. What I read there is that they are going to build more parking lots on or behind W Broadway. I can't find anything on the Capri website about expansion plans. Seeing the neighboring building on Broadway recently demolished would point to more parking lots. Sigh.

  20. Someone did not do their homework. What is happeneing with this block is public knowledge. The plans have been submitted and are there for the viewing. Also, I would advise you to be very careful about what you are printing about pictures of specific properties. You could get yourself into some legal trouble. (I know the owner.) Also, the city has no interest in purchasing these properties; it is the developer. C'mon. Figure it out!

    1. The city and the county have their redevelopment corridor on Penn, that I know. A redevelopment corridor with no clear plan is a demolition program in reality. What development is happening at that location? I'd like to see details. The only developments I know of in that area are the BLO apartment and retail on Broadway and Penn north on Fire and Ice site and I assume the redevelopment of the current BLO site.

    2. Talked to some people at WBC today and now know this part of the Capri block redevelopment, but has nothing to do with the Capri and PCYC directly. They may be involved as a funder. Also the recently demolished Broadway Rental is only temporarily a parking lot as the city won't let any new parking lots be built on Penn/Broadway.

    3. Anon 7:07, since you are so well informed please tell the rest of us what the plan for this area is?

  21. Anon 7:07, how is having a legitimate discussion about what may or may not be happening new development going to get anyone in 'legal trouble'? What is this, the Inquisition? Methinks such threats are akin to swinedribble.

  22. The house was demolished yesterday.

    To the point about public meetings: which ones? City hearings or community/neighborhood events? Did NRRC weigh in? If it's part of the Capri expansion, did THEY hold public meetings? (Not that the Capri necessarily needs to do this, mind you. But if people are claiming there were chances for public input, when did those occur?) So far, the only links to supposedly public dialogue opportunities have been to a document that's six years old and to the Penn Avenue Redevelopment Plan, which didn't specify what was happening with this specific property.

    To the point about my commentary being late to the game, I just moved to this street. I'm certainly not going to hold off on my opinions and desires for what should happen on my street just because of some arbitrary move-in date. It is understandable if one were to respond by saying "That decision was made before you got here," but that won't stop me from taking a critical look at what's happening around me.


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