Keystone expands

Food resources strained by higher needs, new site will provide more space

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Soaring demand for food has strained Keystone Community Services’ food shelves, including its longtime space at 1916 University Ave.
A new community food site, which will house an expanded food shelf, is eyed for 1790-1800 University Ave. Mary McKeown, CEO of Keystone Community Services, presented initial plans to Union Park District Council’s land use committee Dec. 21, 2020. Keystone closed on the properties at year’s end.
Keystone’s move would be another change for the University-Fairview area. In December buildings at the intersection’s northwest corner came down, including longtime stores and a former service station turned restaurant and later retail store. Those made way for an affordable housing project led by developer Reuter Walton.
“2020 has been a very interesting and challenging year for us,” said McKeown. Keystone is one of the region’s largest providers of food, with a second food shelf on Rice St. The nonprofit also hosted 21 “drive-through” food giveaways last year at locations including Allianz Field. Drive-through events provided food for 32,000 people since June.
Keystone served more than 28,000 people in 2019 with food, basic needs and crisis support and expects that number to significantly increase when 2020 totals are completed. “Hunger relief is a very critical issue,” McKeown said. Final numbers for 2020 weren’t available but she estimates that food service request were up 93 percent in 2020 from 2019.
“Hunger relief is a very critical issue,” McKeown said.
The need for a new space precedes the pandemic. Keystone has been looking for a new food and crisis services site since 2019, at one point eyeing the University-Lexington Parkway area. The University-Beacon Avenue site would allow for building space of 20,000 square feet, as compared to the 7,000 feet the agency has now. The current food shelves lack storage and refrigerator space. Keystone must rent space at other locations.
Plans call for remodeling the two buildings at the property, Hafner Furniture at 1800 University Ave. and Bonded Auto Repair at 1790 University Ave. McKeown cautions that the buildings will need “pretty significant renovations” before Keystone can press the properties into service.
“We’re pretty excited about the space,” she said. The facility will be within a short walk off the Green Line Fairview light rail station, and is near two bus routes. It will also have parking in the rear and drive in-out space for the two current food mobiles, which serve as food shelves on wheels. Keystone would like to add a third food mobile.
Community outreach is underway, as is facility predesign. McKeown said predesign work is to be completed by February. Then Keystone will launch fundraising for the project, to renovate and equip the facility. One ask will be to the 2021 Minnesota Legislature, for $3 million.
It’s not known what the total project costs will be. Last year Keystone received a pre-development planning grant for the project from Metropolitan Council.
Keystone is asking the district council and other community groups for help with community engagement as the facility takes shape. One idea is for larger, more user-friendly volunteer work space. Another idea is to move more of the agency’s services, such as tax help and emergency services, to University Avenue from the current space at Merriam Park Community Center, 2000 St. Anthony Ave.
Keystone’s move to Beacon and University came about because plans for a mixed-use development there were shelved. In March 2020 developer LIG Investments unveiled plans for a proposed five-story, 146-apartment building with retail space on its first floor. Market-rate apartments were planned, in a mix of different unit sizes. The district council committee recommended denial of a conditional use permit and density variances needed for the project after much debate and two split votes. Some land use committee members said they couldn’t support the project because of its lack of affordable housing.
The project was never submitted to the St. Paul Planning Commission and was dropped.
While excited about the Keystone project, some committee members said they are sad to lose the mixed-use project. Some described the University-Beacon location as an ideal spot for a neighborhood anchor.
Keystone was asked by committee members if it would consider being part of a larger building, with housing on the upper floors. The nonprofit reached out to the previous developer but didn’t get a response, McKeown said. While nonprofit leadership did discuss being part of a larger project, “housing is not our area of expertise.”

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