Thursday, August 28, 2008

This Old House



I love history. It was my favorite subject in school. Minnesota is full of great historical cities and small towns. I love to visit Stillwater and Red Wing and prefer St. Paul to Minneapolis because of it's old soul.

My dad was raised in a 1920's "beach-cottage" along the shore of the East River in the Bronx, NY. Silver Beach used to be a vacation spot for Manhattanites at the turn of the century. In order to hold off development and the encroaching city in the 1950's- the neighborhood essentially incorporated and created a homeowners association that required application in order to buy a home. The original gated neighborhood- my aunt led the plan. Silver Beach today is just as it was almost 100 years ago and I have cousins that still live there with their families. When you visit and see the wooden street signs and hydrangeas along Indian Trail, high above the beach, you'd think you were in New England- not the Bronx. A historic neighborhood preserved by the people who live there- no tax subsidies required.

My grandfather was born and raised at the Cumberland Hotel, Cumberland WI. His dad and grandmother were the owners and Proprietors. It was a beautiful old Victorian (pictured above) with a boat launch onto Beaver Dam Lake. We lost that grand dame in the 1960's-- they couldn't keep up with the insurance for the 4-story fire hazard and they had a good offer to buy the land. I still visit Cumberland and think- "what if". "What if they would have kept it? What if it were a beautiful old B&B today?" I think about a lot of things when I see the corner where the bank is now. But one thing I don't think is: "what if the government had stepped in and bought it?" Alas, it's history.
Eden Prairie has 3 or 4 historic buildings- all are owned by the City. There are some great possibilities for these buildings- for the private businessperson willing to take the risk. Eden Prairie is in desperate need of some non-chain restaurants. We have one of the highest household incomes in the metro area, but we still need to drive downtown for something other than pasta or steak. I think a chef and investor could do very well with a great wine bar with "small plates" and desserts, etc. You could rent out the entire facility as well- relative to the population there's very few places to hold private events in Eden Prairie.

I'm sorry to break the news- but you're not going to make a profit selling cups of coffee when the real estate costs $800,000. I used to do franchise financing- and some of the busiest restaurants in the country didn't have $800,000 in real estate costs to content with. The city needs to sell this property and take a loss at this point.

I'm curious about the original deal with Dunn Brothers and why there appears to be a "sweetheart lease" today. Was the original guarantor Dunn Brother Corporate? If so- who on earth let them off-the-hook for the apparent shortfall in the lease today? Wasn't the lease supposed to pay back the city for the costs of the remodel? It all goes to prove that the City SHOULD NOT be in the business of buying property, fixing it up and then trying to re-coup costs.

I've been doing some research and according to this article which dates to 4/03- the City- at that time- had already spent $1.4 Million on historic preservation efforts with $600,000-$800,000 spent on the Smith-Douglas-More Dunn Brothers....that is absolutely insane. I guess when you believe that Smith-Douglas-More "changed the world" as Ron Case does- it may seem a pittance.

The problem that many past and present council members have- is that they don't seem to understand the basic principle that they're not spending their own money. They need to overlook their own personal values and desires in order to maintain a reasonable budget. Population growth is flat, yet our City Budget isn't even close to flat. Since I moved here only 4 years ago- the City budget has increased by 30% while population growth has been less than 2%. How is that sustainable?

Maple Grove, Lakeville and Woodbury- are all large suburbs with a rural history and few historic buildings. None of them have Historic Preservation Commissions. They may have Historic Societies that are active, but they don't have the same beeline into the City and it's budget process. Ron Case and Sherry Butcher both made their political starts on the Eden Prairie Historic Commission and it's a sure thing that if they are elected it will be a top priority for the Council to spend even more tax money on these types of projects.

2 comments:

jmeyerhofer said...

My confusion on this issue is that you see the Eden Prairie news where Sherry Butcher is clearly upset that the lease was not extended & places blame on the other council members, yet was not at the meeting.

Sherry hangs her hat on these issues and yet on a night where the council voted on a historic barn and historic house, her seat sat idle.

I'm sure she was campaigning.

Jody said...

Jmeyerhofer,
Don't condemn a city council person for missing a single meeting. Full time jobs, lives, and unavoidable things happen. Watch what stones you throw.