In Dayton’s Bluff, six city-owned buildings dating back to the 1800s or early 1900s will be spared the wrecking ball, at least for now.
The four boarded-up houses and two vacant commercial buildings had been in the running for demolition, but they will get at least a six-month reprieve as a result of a compromise among neighbors, historic preservationists and the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
With a showdown looming Wednesday between the HRA and the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission, Ward 7 city council member Jane Prince brokered a last-minute truce that delays final council action on the properties until July.
She expects that following a community process, the properties will go back on the market through a request for proposals
“These properties make up a considerable block of buildings in the historic district,” Prince said in an interview Wednesday. “Six properties in the district is a lot.”
The homes — at 737 Plum St., 700 E. Fourth St., 767 E. Fourth St. and 275 Bates Ave. — all sit in the Dayton’s Bluff Heritage Preservation District and most of them date back to the 1800s. They were among a series of properties acquired by the HRA between 2007 and 2010 with federal funds.
City officials said they issued repeated requests for proposals, but were unable to find reliable buyers who could restore the properties without an unreasonable amount of public assistance. In 2013, a developer asked for more than $381,000 in public subsidy to redevelop 275 Bates Ave. alone.
In December, the city council voted to overrule the Heritage Preservation Commission’s decision to deny the demolition of the “Schornstein House” at 716 Wilson Ave., which was damaged in a fire. The home, which dates to 1912, was once occupied by grocer and saloon owner William Schornstein and his wife, Wilhelmina, who were born in Germany and immigrated to St. Paul in 1873.
The prospect of losing additional houses and commercial properties to demolition alarmed neighbors and historic preservationists. In October, the preservation commission voted to deny the HRA’s demolition requests for the properties on Plum Street, Fourth Street and Bates Avenue, and the HRA appealed the decision to the city council, which was set to vote on the appeal Wednesday.
Instead, Prince arranged a sit-down meeting Tuesday afternoon with HRA director Jonathan Sage-Martinson, city planners and city staff associated with the preservation commission. The meeting included representatives of Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services, Historic St. Paul, Preserve Frogtown and the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council.
Prince said the city’s Department of Planning and Economic Development will work with neighbors and community groups to structure a community input process, leading to the issuance of a new request for proposals.
“The neighbors want to be more actively involved,” she said.
The neighborhood groups have been advised, however, that if no reasonable redevelopment requests are put forward, some or all of the properties may be torn down, Prince said.
The request for proposals will include two long-vacant commercial buildings at 208-210 and 216-218 Bates Ave. City staff will study whether the commercial buildings could be redeveloped under a new “historic use” variance adopted by the council last year. The city council will revisit the issue July 6.
Carol Carey, executive director of Historic St. Paul, said she’s “pleased with the outcome” of the meetings and “looking forward to creative solutions” — such as possibly converting one of the commercial structures into a “live-work” space, such as a live-in artist studio.