Development projects in the works in Northeast Minneapolis include a new school building on 27th Avenue and a proposal for a condo building on East Hennepin. In Columbia Heights, projects underway (or soon to start) include a gas station/convenience store, a fitness center, a grocery store and a medical clinic. In addition, city officials will consider a proposal for two new apartment buildings, and are also seeking a site for new city offices.
Spero Academy, a K-6 special education charter school, plans to build an $18 million school building at 27th Avenue and California Street NE. The school will occupy part of the 3.87 acre site south of Park Printing. The building is being designed for possible expansion.
Spero (which means “hope” in Latin), is 14 years old. The school, formerly known as Fraser, has been renting space at the former Holland School on Sixth Street NE for the last eight years.
Director Chipp Windham said the 2017-2018 school year will be their last at Holland. Currently, enrollment is 110 students. There are also 75 staff members, including 17 teachers and specialists such as occupational therapists, a nurse, a speech and language specialist, and a social worker. The school contracts out some services, such as audiology.
In the new building, Windham said they will be able to accommodate 165 students and add another seven academic classrooms for a total of 21. The groundbreaking ceremony was August 22; they expect completion in June, 2018, with the school opening in August, 2018.
The building will have an auditorium, a cafeteria, a media center, five “calming” rooms, different types of lighting, and a gym with a running track and a climbing wall. It will include space for programs such as art, music and speech therapy.
“We wanted to stay in Minneapolis and be no more than three miles from our present location,” Windham said. “We didn’t want to lease again. It is not a good idea to be making many transitions when you are serving children with special needs.”
The charter school is authorized by the University of St. Thomas. It is an 11-month school; the school year runs from the first Monday in August to the last Thursday in June. Students attend Mondays through Thursdays; Windham said that having Fridays off gives parents time to schedule doctors’ appointments. Ninety percent of the school population is comprised of special education students. Most are autistic, and many have more than one special needs diagnosis. The ratio of teachers to students is 1:3, or 1:4 in the higher grades.
“Spero is the only [charter] elementary school program designed to benefit children with special needs,” Windham said. “We have various levels of special education here.” Some students use wheelchairs, he added, and many take medications. They might have emotional, developmental, or physical disabilities.
Board chair Donna Piazza said that Minneapolis is a city of parent choice. “This school was started by parents in 2004. We are qualified up to [special education] Level 3. This is a charter school, which means it also is a public school.” Ten students currently attending are general education students; some live close to the school or have siblings at Spero.
Some students have long commutes to attend Spero; 16 vans serve seven counties, which includes cities such as Maple Grove, Apple Valley, and Blaine.
For information on the school and the new building project, go to www.spero.academy, or call 612-465-8601.
East Hennepin condos
The Milwaukee-based development company Fe Equus and its partner DRG, a real estate brokerage, propose to build a condo building in the 400 block of East Hennepin. The land is a triangle-shaped parcel next to Whitey’s World Famous Saloon. A vacant lot and a small white building—which would be razed—currently occupy the site. Developers presented plans to a neighborhood group two months ago and plan to return with further details.
P. Victor Grambsch, president of the Nicollet Island–East Bank Neighborhood Association (NIEBNA), wrote in e-mail that the first meeting was in June. “Tim Dixon from Fe Equus Development made a ‘conceptual’ presentation for a mixed use commercial/residential (condos – some “affordable” or “approachable”) project on the site. Numbers were preliminary and subject to revision, but the design was for 120 condos and approximately 6,000 square feet of retail. Part of the financing is a specialized TIF district which would require action by the City, a factor outside of the purview of NIEBNA.
“The overall project design–type, size, mass, height, etc.–is in general compliance with the NIEBNA Small Area Plan,” Grambsch added. “The fact that it is a condo project is a definite plus. Generally, the presentation was well received, but we made no decision on the project. I expect Tim to be before the October NIEBNA Board meeting for further discussion. Assuming that the project is generally similar to the conceptual design presented in June, I think the NIEBNA Board will support the project.”
Dixon did not respond to a Northeaster request for information last week.
Columbia Heights: apartments, a gas station and a Starbucks
Joe Hogeboom, Columbia Heights development director, said that Dominium plans a winter grand opening for its 191 unit seniors rental building, The Legends at Columbia Heights, at the northeast corner of 37th and University avenues NE.
The project, a four-story building with one-, two- and three-bedroom units, has been under construction this spring and summer. Hogeboom said that nearly every unit is leased and move-in is expected in November.
Also, Dominium is working on another proposal for the city. The developers’ plan to build two four-story apartment buildings east of Central Avenue, on land northeast of 47th and Grand Street—on an unfinished portion of the Grand Central Lofts site. Their proposal will go before the Columbia Heights Planning Commission on September 6 and the city council on September 11. Hogeboom said Dominium has held several public open houses about the project. The company proposes to build 173 units in two buildings. The rental units will be “Section 42” under a HUD (Federal Housing and Urban Development) program that sells tax credits on the private market to encourage private developers to build “workforce,” or “move-up” housing. Rental rates are capped, although Hogeboom said that a one bedroom unit would still rent for more than $1,000.
As of last week, city staff had not approved Dominium’s plan and discussions on parking were continuing.
Meanwhile, HyVee has active plans for two different Columbia Heights sites. The company owns land on the corner of 47th and Central avenues (the former Arby’s site) and intends to build a gas station/convenience store and a Starbucks there.
At the former Rainbow and Slumberland sites west of Central Avenue between 44th and 45th Avenues, Hogeboom said that interior work has begun on a new HyVee grocery store. The grocery store will be “a little smaller than a typical HyVee store,” he added, but the project will include a full service sit-down restaurant and bar, and there will be a food court inside the grocery store. Groundbreaking is expected in September.
“HyVee already owns both sites and is getting rents from tenants in the Rainbow mall,” Hogeboom said.
HyVee also plans to build a medical clinic in the parking lot.
Other projects in the works for Heights include a new Planet Fitness athletic club, east of Central Avenue behind White Castle on 51st Avenue. Hogeboom said the project was approved last winter. The club will have locker rooms, showers, and a small café. Opening is scheduled for November.
New city offices?
The city is currently seeking a new site for its city offices. The old building, at Mill Street south of 40th Avenue, is deteriorating and has substantial problems. Staff and city officials are considering several places for a new building, including behind the new city library, on top of or behind the public safety building on 41st Street, or rebuilding at the present site. Hogeboom said, “It will come down to soil quality and cost of construction.”
The city offices presently include the city council chambers and administrative offices for the mayor, city manager and city staff. Residents can pay water bills and apply for building inspections and permits and licenses (including dog licenses) at city hall. For information on city services and plans, contact Hogeboom, email@example.com, 763-706-3675.
Below: A rendering of the Spero Academy building, courtesy of Giebink – Empathetic by Design. Donna Piazza and Chipp Windham of Spero. Joe Hogeboom, Columbia Heights development director. The city is looking for a new site for city offices, as well as entertaining various developments. (Photos by Gail Olson)