Wellstone apartments complete Franklin Portland Gateway

Updated: June 22, 2009 - 8:54 am

What used to be an intersection blemished with broken-down gas stations, drug trafficking and prostitution is now a center for development and community rejuvenation on Franklin Avenue.

The Wellstone apartment complex, opened in December 2008, marks the completion of the third phase of the Franklin Portland Gateway, a four-phase project aimed at making the area more family, transit and environmentally friendly. The gateway, located at the northeast corner of Franklin and Portland avenues, is a joint project between Hope Community, Inc. and Aeon, two local, nonprofit developers.

The Wellstone offers a mix of affordable and market-rate units in addition to 4,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, per the neighborhood association’s request. It has a total of 49 studio and one, two and three-bedroom apartments. In addition, another 3,000 square feet of the Wellstone is reserved for hosting community-building programs and classes provided by Hope Community.

Having both affordable and market-rate units in the Wellstone strengthens the community by uniting a diverse mix of tenants, Marcia Cartwright, real estate development manager for Hope, said.

“We wanted to find ways to bring a mix of opportunities for folks at the higher income range as well as the lower end to find places to live,” she said.

Currently, the Wellstone has only seven vacant units, Cartwright said, all of which will probably fill up now that summer has arrived. Developers are sifting through proposals for the vacant commercial space, which will likely become a restaurant, she said.

Hope Community has been focusing their efforts on the areas around Franklin and Portland avenues for decades, Cartwright said. It wasn’t until the early ’90s that the four corners that would later become the Franklin Portland Gateway were available for purchase, she said. At the time, three of the four lots consisted of vacant gas stations.

“When you have vacant and blighted areas or intersections with either vacant land or vacant buildings it’s just an invitation for people to claim it and use it for drug dealing and violence,” Cartwright said.

Carla Nielson, who has been a crime prevention specialist with the Franklin Avenue Safety Center for six years, said although there’s still a slight criminal element in the area, she’s happy to see locals outside pushing strollers, cleaning up the boulevards and visiting each other in the evenings.

“It’s exciting to see the land put back into use for the greater community as well as for local residents,” she said. “It’s a much more livable, safe intersection today.”

While planning for the Franklin Portland Gateway, Hope Community teamed up with Aeon, a company with lots of experience and partnerships on the development end. For Aeon, the Gateway aligns with their mission of creating a supportive environment for tenants, Gina Ciganik, Aeon’s vice president of housing development, said.

The largest chunk of funding for the Gateway comes from federal low-income housing tax credits granted by the city and state.

The Wellstone was constructed with many “green” features, such as a storm water remediation system and a solar hot water heating system — powered by 24 rooftop solar panels — that provides 60 percent of the building’s hot water. Hennepin County and energy rebates from the state, Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy funded the environmentally sustainable components. In addition, the county was called in to clean soil that had been contaminated with petroleum from the gas stations.

Like many projects nowadays, the fourth phase of the Franklin Portland Gateway is up in the air given the down economy. Despite the changes that will need to be made to the plans, Cartwright said she’s confident the project will go forward. The first phase of the gateway was finished in 2003. Since then, another building has been finished every two years, she said.

“We did our visioning, zoning, planning and working on this project so that it was really a multiphase project and not just four individual buildings,” she said.

Unlike a few years ago, when people sped through the intersection as quickly as possible, the Franklin Portland Gateway is helping to transform the area, Ciganik said.

“It’s really going to be a neat corner where people are living and working and shopping,” she said. “It’s really a lively, energetic and positive place.”

Reach Tara Bannow at [email protected] or 436-4363.