Plans to relocate the Listening House drop-in day shelter for people who are homeless to the former Red’s Savoy building at 421 E. Seventh St. continued to draw objections from neighbors during a public hearing on February 22 before the Saint Paul City Council.
The council acted as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA). It then held a hearing and voted again as the council on a supplemental budget for the project as part of procedural issues tied to an ongoing lawsuit.
New shelter now in first of two phases
No one from Listening House appeared at the hearing. However, executive director Molly Jalma said in an email that the project is continuing in two phases. The facility will open when the first phase is completed around June.
“We’ve raised just over half of the $6.32 million needed for both phases and are working toward the funding finish line to start construction on phase two with the goal to complete the project in its entirety by fall,” she said.
The hearing was the second held in the past year to address issues raised in the lawsuit. The HRA and City Council adopted a plan last June for up to $28.15 million in tax increment financing (TIF) for several private developments. An allocation made weeks later was $1.4 million for Listening House’s renovation of the longtime restaurant into a day shelter.
“We’ve raised just over half of the $6.32 million needed for both phases and are working toward the funding finish line to start construction on phase two with the goal to complete the project in its entirety by fall,” said Listening House executive director Molly Jalma.
City, Listening House sued
In August, the city and Listening House were sued in Ramsey County District Court by several Lowertown and Lafayette Park commercial and residential property owners. They cited problems with crime and behavior near Listening House’s former day shelter, Freedom House, in their objections. Freedom House was forced to close at 296 W. Seventh St. in spring 2022 after neighborhood residents sued over problems associated with users of the facility.
The lawsuit over the Red’s Savoy location is still active, though the plaintiffs were unable to stop the building’s ongoing renovation last year. Most neighbors said they did not know about the planned reuse until after it was approved. They also objected to a lack of notice of the city’s decision to help finance the building’s renovation.
As many as 200 people a day are expected to use the shelter. Listening House was located in downtown, but was forced to move to a Dayton’s Bluff church several years ago. The goal for the nonprofit is to consolidate its services into the former Red’s Savoy site.
Plaintiffs said procedures not followed
One argument in the lawsuit is that the city did not follow its own procedures. A public notice of the June hearing had not been published in a legal newspaper. Also, the spending plan for the TIF dollars did not specify the Listening House forgivable loan as an authorized expenditure.
The City Council held its first supplemental hearing last September to resolve the issue of the public hearing notice. It also gave the plaintiffs a chance to address the council. The second hearing on February 22 was to resolve issues related to the spending plan.
Local property owners aren’t happy
Ed Conley renovated the Schurmeier Building into apartments several years ago. He said he never would have taken on that project had he known Listening House would be located nearby.
Conley has purchased and rehabilitated several buildings in Saint Paul for housing. According to him, if he managed his properties the way Listening House does, “the city would have shut me down.”
Dave Brooks also owns several Saint Paul properties. He said he has lost millions of dollars as workers have failed to return to downtown in the wake of the pandemic. He and others said crime and behavior issues are already causing problems in the area.
— Jane McClure
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