As 2008 drew to a close the Volunteers of America (VOA) project looked dead.
But then things changed.
The city election brought in a new mayor, Phil Rice, and new council member, Steve Schmidt, to join Carl Anderson, Mark Freeburg and Jeff Weaver. But could the project come back to life?
In December 2008, agent Bob Kohns informed the city that VOA was looking at Coon Rapids sites but would consider Anoka again if there was interest.
Two months later, Kohns informed the city that VOA was looking at a six- to nine-acre parcel of city land near the Northstar Station on Fourth Avenue, but its odd shape made it hard to develop.
Nevertheless, in early March, VOA retained Pope Associates led by Skip Sorenson and Ward Isaacson to design a concept plan.
In April Kohns reported that VOA looked at the site with their development consultant. Its concept plan was for 17 acres of city and county land north of Grant Street on both sides of Fourth Avenue. But Coon Rapids sites were still in play.
On May 13, 2009, Senior Vice President Wayne Olson informed the city that the VOA was “seriously interested” if the city and county land could be combined for an 11- to 17-acre site east of Fourth Avenue.
On July 27 Anoka City Council directed staff to work on a deal with Anoka County to assemble this site.
On Aug. 13 a meeting was held with county officials on the seventh floor of the Anoka County Government Center. Present were county commissioners Dennis Berg and Dan Erhart, County Administrator Terry Johnson and Human Services Division Manager Jerry Soma. From the city were Councilmembers Mark Freeburg, Jeff Weaver, City Manager Tim Cruikshank, Planning Director Carolyn Braun and this writer.
At the outset, county officials expressed opposition to releasing county land for the project due to concerns about buffering county facilities to the north from future development to the south and also the loss of land for potential county expansion. The city offered to study county expansion options and all agreed to meet again.
On Sept. 2, 2009, Olson indicated that VOA was ready to develop a project on this site subject to city-county agreement. VOA project manager Bob Van Slyke of Essential Decisions, Inc., presented the plan to city officials.
City and county officials met the next day. City officials presented the plan and explained county expansion options without this property. The county liked the plan but questioned zoning, land use controls and how to receive full value for county property. All agreed to meet again.
The year 2010 began with hope for a project but no deals made.
The city and county held a series of meetings in early 2010 – Jan. 12, Jan. 21 and Feb. 23 – resolving more concerns. A property exchange concept emerged. Appraisals were completed.
Finally, on April 8, 2010, agreement was achieved. The city would trade the city parking lot at Third and Van Buren (which was leased to the county) together with the adjacent 303 Van Buren triplex rental, rezone the Anoka County Human Services Center on Fourth Avenue and vacate a segment of Garfield Street nearby in exchange for the county land. It would become an unprecedented non-cash property exchange with a combined value of more than $2.5 million.
Concurrently, Olson indicated the VOA was prepared to enter into purchase and development agreements subject to land assembly. He expected the VOA national governing board to approve the project in late April.
On May 3 the city council approved the exchange agreement and purchase of 303 Van Buren St.
On May 25 the Anoka County Board approved the exchange agreement.
Then 303 Van Buren was purchased, tenants relocated and the house demolished.
Over the next seven months VOA development plans and agreements were prepared, reviewed and finally approved by the city on Jan. 3, 2011.
The city-county land exchange was completed in May 2011.
But 2011 began with financial uncertainty in the bond markets. Interest rates were unstable. VOA’s bond consultant, Mark Landerville of HJ Sims, advised restraint.
The project was put on hold.
Over the next 10 months the deadlines in the VOA agreements were extended several times.
Finally, on Nov. 30, 2011, on the 22nd floor of the Wells Fargo Building in Minneapolis, the $34.9 million tax-exempt bond issue and real estate transactions were closed. VOA purchased 7.5 acres with an option to purchase 7.5 acres more for future expansion.
The project was a go.
Groundbreaking took place on Jan. 30, 2012 and construction began.
Less than a year later the 59-unit apartment wing was opened on Dec. 3, 2012 and the skilled nursing facility followed on Feb. 25, 2013.
The grand opening was held Saturday, May 18.
After more than 10 years of persistence, The Homestead at Anoka is a reality—a tribute to those dedicated people who never gave up.
They made it happen.
Bob Kirchner is a local historian, seminary student and city of Anoka’s part-time community development director.