Anoka ready, willing to take on historic cottages
The city of Anoka wants to give three vacant cottages and the unused auditorium on the Rum River Human Services campus owned by Anoka County a new lease on life.
With the goal of using the properties to provide housing for homeless veterans, the Anoka City Council is ready to ink an agreement to take on the historic buildings and is in talks with the county to make it happen.
The Anoka Asylum, as it was first known, opened in 1900 and over nearly a century housed and treated thousands of mentally ill patients.
The hospital was closed in 1999 when treatment transitioned to community care as well as the nearby Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center. At that point, the state gave the historic campus to Anoka County.
The county uses several buildings on the riverfront property for its human services division. It is also the site of the Anoka County Jail’s workhouse and Stepping Stone Emergency Housing.
The fate of the three cottages in question, along with the auditorium, has been uncertain for years.
Sitting vacant and deteriorating, the county doesn’t have a use for these buildings, said Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte. Nor does it have the budget for the fixes required to make them usable again.
While the county does have space needs, the cottages and the campus are not the right fit, he said.
Discussions on what to do with the historic buildings have included the prospect of demolition, although that’s not the preferred option according to Schulte.
He wants to exhaust all opportunities before it comes to that.
“We don’t want to take those buildings down and then find out there could have been a use for them,” Schulte said.
The Anoka City Council swiftly opposed demolition and volunteered its staff to help broker a solution.
In 2015 the city worked with CommonBond, a nonprofit provider of affordable housing, on plans for a veterans housing project estimated to cost $11.3 million.
But CommonBond was not able to secure the necessary funding.
A new plan
While the plan is still to use the cottages for veterans housing, this time the city is taking a different approach. Instead of fully rehabbing the buildings into condominiums, the emphasis would be on getting them livable, said City Manager Greg Lee. This would speed up the process and drastically reduce the price tag.