A reprieve for Lowry Grove: 11th-hour bid might save mobile home park

Antonia Alvarez hugs a fellow resident.
Antonia Alvarez hugs fellow resident Laura Buskirk while spreading the news that the nonprofit AEON is stepping in to help the residents purchase the park.
Evan Frost | MPR News

When the residents of St. Anthony's Lowry Grove mobile home park received a letter in April saying the land under their homes would be sold, they started making plans. The park was set to close.

Some made plans to move — and some made plans to fight.

Antonia Alvarez is one of the residents who led the campaign to keep the park, which is more than 70 years old, in operation. Buried in the state law governing mobile home park closures was a move that no other park residents in the state had ever successfully used: The right of first refusal.

It allows park residents the opportunity to match the buyer's offer — or have a nonprofit match it on their behalf — and purchase the park to keep it open. For Lowry Grove, they needed to find $6 million, and they only had 45 days to do it.

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The plan seemed a little crazy — but it worked.

Alan Arthur, president and CEO of Aeon, confirmed today that the affordable housing nonprofit turned in a purchase agreement on behalf of the residents to Lowry Grove's owner, Phil Johnson. It was submitted on Friday afternoon — a day before the deadline.

"The next step: The attorneys need to get together and figure out what happens," Arthur said. "We don't really know how it works, because I don't know that it's been done in the state of Minnesota before. It's new territory."

Johnson was unavailable for immediate comment. Arthur said he expects lawyers to spend as much as the next 45 days hashing it out.

If it's successful, Aeon will own and manage the park.

"When people ask me, 'Why the heck did you do this?' It's because the residents impressed upon us the value this place has for them, for their children, for their neighbors," Arthur said. "We think that value is worth trying to figure out how to preserve and enhance it, so it's a fairly simple equation for us."

Lowry Grove's residents were bracing to receive a park closure notice next week. Now, at least, that step has been delayed.

"We're in this fight," Alvarez said. "We haven't won, but we haven't lost yet."

MPR News photographer Evan Frost contributed to this report.