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March 28, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott and Michelle Bruch
Gregory J. Scott and Michelle Bruch
Skyscape auction liquidates 27 condos

ELLIOT PARK —  In the city’s first-ever non-foreclosure housing auction, all 27 available condos in Elliot Park’s Skyscape disappeared in an hour and a half, selling at a rate of almost one every three minutes.

The auction, which took place March 14 at Graves 601 Hotel, was a risky move by Skyscape Opportunity LLC, a group that last year bought up all 72 remaining units in the luxury condo tower at 929 Portland Ave. S.

Looking to save itself the “holding costs” — expenses from interest, marketing and paying agents — of selling the units piecemeal, the LLC decided to dump the remaining inventory all at once, advertising “close-out” starting bids that were up to 47 percent off previous asking prices.

The danger, of course, was that not everything would sell — a result that would put Realtors in the tricky position of having to re-market bargain-bin rejects, as well as threaten to drive down condo values in Skyscape and beyond.

But every unit did sell. Almost 90 bidders showed up, nearly all of them owner-occupants, and every available unit was snatched up.

According to Velocity Marketing Services, a New York firm that arranged the auction, selling prices ranged from $185,000 to $650,000. Total purchases netted $6.5 million.

Most greeted the results with relief.

“A lot of people thought it was just going to be a lot of bottom-feeding investors, but the reality was there were a lot of homeowners, first-time buyers that wanted to get a good deal and a good value,” said Joe Grunnet, whose Downtown Resource Group had been selling the Skyscape project and acted as the auction’s broker on record.  

Fritz Kroll, a sales agent for Edina Realty’s Downtown office, attended the auction on behalf of some clients who ultimately made a purchase. He said the clients came to him specifically because of the auction.

“I think this shook some buyers out of the woodwork that weren’t really looking,” he said. “That’s why I think, overall, this absolutely is a positive for Downtown.”

Kroll said his clients paid $192,000 for a one-bedroom-plus-den, a type of unit, according to Grunnet, that had a pre-auction price tag of around $220,000. But the advertised minimum bid was a deceptively low $145,000.

Grunnet said, “That’s not a fire-sale deal, but it’s a deal.”

A fire-sale deal is what current Skyscape occupants feared. In the lead-up to the auction, many voiced loud opposition to the close-out pricing.

On average, the auctioned units sold for between $220 to $260 per square foot. To put that into perspective, Grunnet said he was previously selling a corner unit in the building for $253 per square foot.

“So they sold just below the current market value,” he said.

Asked what he would say to current residents worried about the value of their condos, Grunnet said, “I understand their being nervous. Because those minimum bids would scare the heck out of homeowners. So it’s a big sigh of relief … the homeowners needed to get that building sold out.”

— Gregory J. Scott


Court Watch program seeks Northeast volunteers

The precinct’s new crime prevention specialist is assessing neighborhood interest in a new Northeast Court Watch program.

Court Watch groups operate elsewhere in the city, such as Downtown and Southwest Minneapolis, and the groups track chronic offenders. They often write to judges about an offender’s impact on the community. The judge can take that feedback into account during sentencing, perhaps choosing to impose a geographic restriction and ban an offender from the area where a recent crime was committed.

Crime Prevention Specialist Tom Thompson is looking for one volunteer from each Northeast neighborhood.

A recent Court Watch success story comes out of Downtown Minneapolis. The Court Watch helped monitor the “Downtown 100,” a list of Downtown’s top serial offenders. The initiative paired the Court Watch with a dedicated prosecutor and probation officer as well as housing and social services to tackle the causes of the recidivism. In its first year, the initiative led to a 74-percent decrease in Downtown crimes by the top 50 offenders.

For more information on the Northeast Court Watch, reach Thompson at

— Michelle Bruch


Police turn attention to vacant NE homes

The 2nd Precinct is starting to see an increase in vacant houses, and police are looking for help to identify all of the vacant homes in Northeast.

The department is borrowing a strategy started in North Minneapolis’ 4th Precinct, a community that was harder hit with vacant homes.

“Northeast and even Southeast hasn’t been dramatically affected by foreclosures,” said Nick Juarez, crime prevention specialist for the 2nd Precinct. “We’ve seen vacant houses and how they become targets for copper theft and other burglaries. We want to get ahead of the issue.”

The price of copper scrap is higher than it’s been in several years, and Juarez said police are trying to identify potential targets for theft. He said police must be particularly vigilant if someone walks away from a home and the bank hasn’t begun foreclosure proceedings yet.

“It falls onto city services to watch the property, because no one else is,” he said.

— Michelle Bruch


Habitat For Humanity project on Tyler Street

AUDUBON PARK — Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity will start building a new house in April at 3035 Tyler St. NE. The project is expected to wrap up with a new occupant in place next winter.

The owner donated the rental home after it was condemned by the city and had fallen behind on taxes, according to Matt Haugen, communications manager of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Habitat staff paid off the taxes, purchased the home for $1, and knocked it down last year. Volunteers will build a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a one-car garage in its place.

— Michelle Bruch


NE library ready to open

HOLLAND — Only 25 percent of the area in the renovated Northeast Library is new, but architects promise that the library’s feel and function is completely transformed.  

“We wanted to have a better connection with the community,” said Design Architect Chad Clow of Cuningham Group Architecture. “We wanted to give the building more of a presence within the street. [Before] you could drive by and not even know it’s a public building. Now it is clearly a library — a community symbol.”

The architects replaced dark glass with a big bay window-style addition on the corner. The new clear glass allows in more daylight and reduces heat gain inside. The light fixtures dim and brighten in response to the light pouring in from outside to conserve energy.

The architects also used lighter, more reflective zinc panels on the building’s exterior that are 100 percent recyclable. The core of the library is now one big, open space to allow for better sightlines and a more intuitive layout.

“One of the most sustainable things we can do is provide flexibility,” Clow said.

During the community input process, the architects learned that residents were very concerned about losing the old tree on the southeast corner of the property. It was in the ground before the first library building was designed, and it continued to hang on after being damaged by lightning. An arborist determined the tree was unhealthy and needed to go, so the architects asked a local furniture fabricator to refashion the tree into furniture.

The tree now lives on in many of the new tables.

The library closed for renovation in 2009, and it reopens April 2 at 2200 Central Ave. NE.

— Michelle Bruch


New arts festival promises to be an all-nighter

A new outdoor arts festival will debut this summer, one that begins right after the sun has gone down and ends just before dawn.

Northern Spark, which will take place along the Mississippi River in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, is slated for the eight hours of darkness stretching from 8:55 p.m. on June 4 to 5:28 a.m. on June 5.  Organizers have modeled it after the “nuit blanche,” or white night, festivals that are common in Europe.

“For one night, the entire Twin Cities will be full of public art projects,” he said.

According to Steven Dietz, coordinator of Northern Spark, the festival will transform the city into a sprawling public gallery, with installations happening up and down the Mississippi River at key sites like the Stone Arch Bridge and the Soap Factory. Dietz, a new media guru who has worked at Walker Art Center and was a co-founder of, said that many of the festival’s installations would have an interactive theme.

For example, huge photos will be projected onto the Gold Medal silos along the Mississippi, and viewers will be able to choose what they want to look at.

Dietz also hinted at performances of electronic music, choreography and dance, bioluminescent algae floating in the river, and even lullabies, so that participants who get tuckered out during the night can take a nap.

— Gregory J. Scott


David Frank named first Transit Oriented Development Manager

NORTH LOOP — David Frank, president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association, has been named the city’s first ever Transit Oriented Development Manager.

The new position is all about growing development around light rail stops and bus lines — something Frank had already done as Director of Development at local real estate company Schafer Richardson.

“David has gotten results in the private sector in growing housing, businesses and jobs along transit lines. It’s just the kind of experience we need, and we’re glad that he’s joining the City,” said Mayor R. T. Rybak.

Frank is also a steering committee member of 2020 Partners, a public/private effort to coordinate development and infrastructure improvements around the new Minnesota Twins stadium and the nearby Transit Interchange.

Sixty years ago, Rybak said, 125,000 more people lived in Minneapolis than do today. The mayor attributed the large population to the city’s streetcars, and he said he hoped to spur similar growth by offering more transit.

“We want to grow, and the most promising sites for growth are along our expanding transit corridors. When we offer people more transit options, we will attract more residents and more workers,” said Rybak. “And when we do that, our tax base will grow and the tax burden will be spread more widely.”

— Gregory J. Scott