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East Bank Mills developer rallies to beat Nov. 15 sheriff's sale deadline

One of the most unusual development projects in the Twin Cities is facing a painfully common problem this month --foreclosure.

Schafer Richardson's East Bank Mills development was designed to bring nearly 1,000 new living units to the Minneapolis riverfront but stalled once the recession hit. Now a sheriff's sale is set for Nov. 15, with urgent negotiations underway to keep the project alive.

David Frank, who has been working on the project since his first day at Schafer Richardson seven years ago, says hope for East Bank Mills' future is "tempered with a hefty dose of reality." The project's financing structure, via 24 different banks, would be "unwieldy even in good times," he says.

The developer is pressing ahead on two fronts: trying to bring new money, people, and ideas to the project; and short-circuiting the foreclosure process through talks amongst the various parties' attorneys. But time is short. As Frank noted, when the calendar flipped this week the 15th was in the middle of the page.

East Bank Mills remains an ambitious vision, even languishing on paper. Plans include renovation of the historic Pillsury A Mill, a handsome 130-year-old limestone edifice that was the world's biggest flour mill in its heyday. Designed by Minneapolis architect LeRoy S. Buffington (who had a claim as one of the earliest skyscraper designers), the A Mill towers above Main Street, the oldest street in the city. Other massive buildings in the multi-block former Pillsbury milling complex would also be reused, including a red-tile grain elevator with silos that would remain empty but would support condominiums above.

Does Schafer Richardson regret environmental, historic-preservation and neighborhood planning processes that slowed the project's process? "Not really," Frank says. To forgo those steps is "not really our style."

Source: David Frank, Schafer Richardson
Writer: Chris Steller
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