The state of housing in Albert Lea

Published 4:00 pm Saturday, September 30, 2023

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The city has been buzzing with activity on new housing developments. What’s happening with each, and when will they be completed?

Sky Flats are slated to be in the former Marketplace Foods building on West Main Street. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Sky Flats

Projected units: 50 units
Type: Non-subsidized market rate one- and two-bedroom apartments
Location: Former Marketplace Foods building, West Main Street

Update: Albert Lea City Manager Ian Rigg said developers of the former Marketplace Foods building have been focused on wrapping up another project in another city, and should now be focused on the Albert Lea project.

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So far, the interior of the building has been gutted and new windows have been installed. Asphalt that will no longer be needed has been torn up in the parking lot.

The outside walls have been painted, though there is still some exterior work that needs to be done.

There is still a lot of interior work that needs to be finished as well, including drywall and finishes.

He said a few things with the project have changed from the original proposal because of inflation.

“The most important part is going to be the quality of the units on the inside and how marketable they are,” he said. “That’s going to be the key thing.”

The first set of apartments has been built along Front and another is planned.

Front Street apartments

Projected units: 96 additional units; 48 already in place
Type: Multi-family housing
Location: Blazing Star Landing

Update: With the first 48 units of multi-family housing already in place on the southernmost part of the Blazing Star Landing, Unique Opportunities LLC is now looking to build a second larger apartment building to accommodate 96 additional units directly east of the existing development, as well as garages.

Rigg said environmental work is expected to be done at the site by spring, with construction starting after that.

He said not as much soil cleanup will have to be completed as with the original building, but there will still have to be some.

The city has received money from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to help with the cleanup on the property, which is at the site of the former Farmland Foods.

Tapestry Companies

Projected units: 60+ units of low- to moderate-income apartments; 60+ units of senior housing
Type: One- to four-bedroom units
Location: Blazing Star Landing

Update: The Albert Lea City Council in July approved a purchase agreement with Tapestry Companies for four acres of property in the middle of the Blazing Star Landing along Garfield Avenue to accommodate a combined 120-plus units of low- to moderate-income apartments and senior housing.

The company, Rigg said, has since turned in its application for housing tax credits through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and should get word whether it is awarded the credits at the end of the year or early 2024. At that time plans can be finalized.

Architectural drawings show the two buildings are projected to be 3 stories tall, and the affordable family apartments would be up to four bedrooms in size. The senior apartments would be one or two-bedrooms.

Under the agreement, the city would hold the property until 2025. Details of the development agreement have not yet been worked out.

The Ramsey School Apartments are on Fourth Street in what used to be a former school. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Ramsey School Apartments

New units: 12 units
Type: Studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments
Location: Fourth Street at site fo former Ramsey School

Update: The former Ramsey School opened after extensive renovations as Ramsey School Apartments this spring.

The building features a dozen apartments — six on each floor — including two studio apartments, six one-bedroom apartments and four two-bedroom apartments.

The building has hallways reminiscent of the former school but completely remodeled apartments, including new electrical, plumbing, heating, windows, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, among other improvements.

The apartments are owned by Fred and Leah Ridler, who live west of the Twin Cities.

300 block of Broadway

New units: 20 to 30 units
Location: South Broadway

Update: The Albert Lea City Council in June approved a purchase agreement with a group called Albert Lea Real Estate Fund LP, which is a partnership between a team of local investors, a Northfield firm called REVocity and the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, for the four city-owned properties at 310, 314, 324 and 332 S. Broadway.

The purchase agreement states the city will essentially take the property off the market as it works with the group for a development agreement.

Plans call for mixed-use development on the block with commercial space and rental housing units.

The council in August approved a tax-increment finance redevelopment district and plan for the block. Rigg said the city continues too look at how it can help the project and will be working to get funding from the state for gap financing.

The former VFW building and the adjacent building on Clark Street have been proposed to be turned into apartments. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

VFW building

New units: 20 loft-style apartments
Location: 131 and 137 E. Clark Stree
Update: The Albert Lea City Council voted in late August to move ahead with efforts to stabilize the former VFW building on Clark Street that has fallen into disrepair.

Rigg said he wasn’t sure where the property owners were at in terms of the ability to make the necessary improvements and that he wasn’t sure where the owners were at with the project, either. The proposal for the building and its adjacent building were to turn them into 20 loft-style apartments.

Online property records list the owner as Clark Street East LLC of Apple Valley.

Is it enough?

When asked whether all of the new housing projects would be enough to solve the housing shortage in the community, Rigg said he thought it would help, though he did not think it would completely solve it.

The city was 300 units short after taking into consideration the former Marketplace Foods apartments and the apartments through Unique Opportunities.

The city hopes to have the housing study updated in 2024, which looks not only at apartments but single-family housing as well.

If the city is going to continue to grow with more businesses, it needs to get more younger people in the community who will need housing.

The city is looking not only at how it can bring new apartments to town for people who can’t buy homes, but also is looking at incentives and other opportunities for fixing up existing houses. In addition, it has its demolition diversion program, which takes houses from tax forfeiture and puts the money into rehabbing buildings still worth saving — weighing the cost of rehabilitation with the cost of demolition — and using the money it would have spent on demolition costs for the repairs. After the repairs are made, the city will turn the properties back over to the private market and sell them at fair market value.

He said he is excited to work with the Albert Lea Housing and Redevelopment Authority on the redevelopment aspect of the organization and what can be done to help address needs of the existing housing stock.