Keystone
The preliminary design for Keystone’s new food center on University Avenue. Images by 4RM+ULA Architects

Keystone Community Services’ planned new food center at 1790-1800 University Ave. has just gotten a $1.7 million lift. The Saint Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority board awarded two federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) loans on November 9 to the $8.38 million project. Construction is expected to start in January, with completion later in the year.

“The funding gives us the boost we needed to get the project underway,” said Mary McKeown, Keystone president and CEO. “It helped us fill a funding gap.”

City Council members said they were pleased to see the project move ahead, noting that Keystone serves people throughout Saint Paul.

The social services nonprofit agency recently purchased two University Avenue buildings, which date from 1917 and 1923 and housed a transmission center and furniture store for many years. Keystone plans to consolidate its current food shelf on University and its Rice Street food shelf in the new center. Clients at many locations are also served by Keystone’s two foodmobiles.

The new 20,000-square-foot facility will vastly increase Keystone’s capacity to receive and store food, improve logistical support for mobile food services, and provide a store-like shopping area. It will also have private spaces where Keystone personnel can meet with clients, and large meeting rooms for public meetings and events.

Another plus will be a parking garage for the agency’s foodmobiles, which have had their catalytic converters stolen when parked outside.

The November 9 action is just the latest in a series of city efforts to help the food center open its doors. The City Council in August 2021 approved a $56,443 Neighborhood Sales Tax Revitalization (STAR) grant for the project. Then in October 2021 it approved a $902,255 CDBG loan for Keystone. Part of the action taken on November 9 calls for all three CDBG loans to be combined. They are expected to be forgiven over time.

 

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The agency’s food shelves and foodmobiles are currently experiencing a doubling of overall demand at a time when volunteer numbers still have not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

In 2021 the plan was to phase in work on the building and continue fundraising, but increased costs and rising demand for services forced Keystone to rethink that approach. Its board voted instead to expedite the project and to assume debt, something not typical for a nonprofit project, McKeown said. City planning staff were approached to help fill a $1.7 million funding gap.

Keystone just had a 2022 STAR funding request turned down. A request for state bonding was tied up in the 2022 Minnesota Legislature’s gridlock. Keystone launched a fundraising drive this fall to raise another $125,000.

The agency’s food shelves and foodmobiles are currently experiencing a doubling of overall demand at a time when volunteer numbers still have not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

McKeown noted that this summer, Keystone saw the number of first-time clients more than triple, from 364 last August to 1,251 this August. According to her, households are coping with higher costs of goods and services, and wages are not keeping up with inflation.

“People cannot sustain these increases and pay more for gas, food, utilities and housing,” McKeown said, and Keystone anticipates further increased demand for food support in the years ahead. It is anticipated that the new center will serve as many as 50,00 people a year.

Keystone will maintain its other locations, McKeown said. Those include administrative headquarters and senior programming at the Merriam Park Community Center, senior and youth programs at the West Seventh Community Center, and youth programs at the Keystone Best Buy Teen Tech Center and at McDonough Community Center. The Express Bike Shop on Selby Avenue will also remain open.

— Jane McClure

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