Falcon Heights marks opening of affordable housing units in Amber Union building – Twin Cities

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After a long and difficult three years of working to bring affordable housing to a historic building in Falcon Heights, the Amber Union development celebrated its grand opening Thursday.

The $57 million project created 125 units for residents no higher than 50 percent area median income. The project received historic tax credits, tax-exempt bonds and tax-exempt financing as well as other funding from sources such as Ramsey County and the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The 1940s-era Art Deco-style building at 1667 Snelling Ave formerly belonged to Technology and Information Education Services, an organization that trained teachers and staff for metro-area school districts.

At the Amber Union affordable housing development grand opening in Falcon Heights on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, project leaders provided tours of units such as this studio. (Olivia Stevens / Pioneer Press)

Edina-based developer Buhl Investors took notice of the building’s potential for affordable housing after redeveloping the historic Soap Factory building in Minneapolis. The developer purchased the building from TIES in 2019 for $4.65 million and has been working to secure funding and finish the project since then.

“We wanted to use our experience to work on another historic project,” said Buhl Associate Harrison Mohagen, who led the Amber Union development. “We were able to preserve the building, not do any new construction, build affordable housing within it and increase density on a retail corridor.”

Mohagen said all of the units — which range from studio to four bedrooms — became available for leasing on Nov. 1. The building is currently 40 percent occupied.

“The unit layouts are larger than most apartment buildings due to the historic nature … That allowed us to have a higher percentage of larger units,” said Mohagen. “We had a bunch of people come and voice their support for the larger units, which at the end of the day are going to be available for families.”

Falcon Heights City Council Member Melanie Leehy said she’s proud of the development and excited for new residents to bring more diversity to the area. She said the city has worked to make sure the project has community approval and everyone who moves into Amber Union is informed about how to connect with other residents.

“I wanted to make sure that all the tenants here have that same opportunity as anyone with living in a single-family home to participate and be involved,” said Leehy. “I really hope that residents are able to embrace the increased diversity and be proud of what’s going on here. I don’t want it to become ‘us and them.’ I want it to become ‘we.’”

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