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Untapped housing in a downtown

By Staff | Jun 16, 2019

You know, I have always had some kind of an interest in apartments which are upstairs above a downtown business.

Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. But, I just seem to find them interesting. I am not even sure I actually want to live in one, I just find it curious that people do.

My interest may have started back in the late 1970s. I was working on fixing up a newspaper office in Cherryvale, Kansas. I was helping rehab both the newspaper itself, and the office building it was housed in.

The guy who owned the business next door came over to visit and asked me if we were going to fix up the apartments upstairs. I told him we had no plans to do so, at least at the moment.

He told me he lived upstairs in his building next door and asked if I wanted to see it, and I said sure.

He had turned what had been some offices for a doctor and a dentist into a luxurious, huge “penthouse” apartment. That included gutting it and making it totally modern and, well, totally awesome.

The focal point in the den was his fancy “recliner.” It was the old dentist’s chair.

Then there was the time I was in Wishek, North Dakota, doing much the same thing helping revamp the weekly newspaper and rehab its office.

There was an apartment above that newspaper office also, and it was in good enough shape that the previous owner lived in it.

I stayed in the spare bedroom while I was there. The former editor/publisher of the paper told me that I was sleeping in Angie Dickinson’s bedroom.

It seems Angie Dickinson’s father had been the owner/publisher/editor of the Wishek Star and the Kulm Messenger.

(Now, if you are too young to know who Angie Dickinson is, I suggest you Google her name and learn all about her. Besides being a TV and movie star, she was also a very interesting woman.)

But, I digress.

I bring up this whole downtown apartment living in small towns concept because suddenly this idea is making an appearance at some meetings in and around Faribault County.

The Blue Earth Economic Development Authority heard a report on the subject just last week.

Mary Kennedy, EDA specialist, gave a report of a survey she has been working on, concerning the number of upstairs apartments in the downtown Blue Earth business district.

The number was slightly surprising, but not really if you note all the buildings with a second story.

Kennedy had tallied 34 apartments, plus another four more possible ones she has not yet been able to learn about. Now, granted, not all of them are occupied, or even habitable. But, many of them are.

There are 21one-bedroom apartments with 11 of them currently occupied. There are six two-bedroom apartments, with two occupied, and one three-bedroom apartment which is currently occupied.

Out of those 34 apartments, only 16 (approximately) are habitable. The others need some or a lot of work in order to be suitable to be rented out.

However, there seems to be several apartments which are currently being rehabbed and will be available for rent in the future.

The EDA is discussing creating some sort of a grant/loan program to encourage businesses to rehab more apartments.

Their interest is in creating more housing units of all kinds, because it helps with economic development. It is hard to encourage businesses to expand or locate here if there is not enough available work force, and that involves having a place for these new workers to live.

The Faribault County EDA also had a brief discussion about upstairs apartments. When they discussed a loan to Humble Heart in Wells, it was mentioned the building in Wells that is involved with that project has five empty apartments upstairs.

The county EDA members showed an interest in that possibility, as well, for the same reason. The EDAs see these empty apartments as a way to expand housing units without building something totally new.

And, there seems to be a resurgence in people seeing an upstairs apartment in a downtown setting as an interesting place to live.

My brother lives in an apartment above a business in a small town in Wisconsin. Other than the steps, and the fact he has no garage, he loves it. It has a very interesting view of the town, and he is close enough to walk to everywhere he needs to go.

I still don’t have a big desire to live in one of these downtown apartments, but I just seem to find them very interesting, for some odd reason or other.

It is good to see the city of Blue Earth and its EDA and HRA (Housing Rehabilitation Authority) are investing in various ways in the future of housing in Blue Earth. Good for them.