WHITE BEAR LAKE — A letter sent to neighbors within 350 feet of property at 2600 County Road E inviting them to a developer’s meeting included the tenant holding the lease at that address: Level Up Academy.
School staff was just as surprised as everyone else who received the notice.
The charter school’s director, Molly Dandelet, said they learned a land holding company was interested in the church-owned property at the same time as everyone else. It was a bit disconcerting.
“We have always had good relations with Rockpoint Church, so we were surprised that we were not made aware,” Dandelet said.
The K-8 school, which opened in 2015, has a five-year lease with the church and an option for five more.
That didn’t stop the marketing of the 5 acres, which Rockpoint Executive Pastor Wes Oren pointed out is a rare find in White Bear Lake.
“There are very few parcels of this size available in White Bear. That’s why it’s desirable,” Oren said. “People who want a few acres don’t have many choices.”
The church has owned the property for 50 years. When the congregation outgrew the building, the church relocated to Lake Elmo and put the land up for sale. That was 13 years ago.
“We’ve had opportunities to sell, but chose not to,” Oren said. “We’ve had it under contract; then we had the (real estate) crash in 2008 and the (E) corridor was economically troubled. The economy started getting better and eight years ago, Level Up founders talked about putting a charter school together.”
Level Up talked about buying the property. Dandelet said the school doesn’t want to leave the location. “We would like to own the property in the future and intend to lease until we can become owners in what we hope to be the very near future,” she said. “Our school is a successful model currently at capacity. Like our neighbors, we value the green space and outdoor play space. We will always look to protect green space because it is in the best interest of our school community and surrounding neighborhood.”
The party interested in the property is Inverwood LLC. There is an agreement in place. Oren wouldn’t say what the purchase price is for the acreage — there are four parcels — but alluded to a figure “north of $2.5 million.”
The church pastor was adamant that a buyer “can’t kick the school out.” They can, however, choose not to extend the lease once it terminates.
The property will likely be zoned for multifamily housing, according to Oren. He attended the neighborhood meeting last month to talk about Inverwood’s interest and indicated it was a possible use. “We’ve also had people talk to us about retail, child care and office space,” he added.
Still, Oren said the school “could be a potential buyer for the property.”
When Rockpoint leased to Level Up five years ago, language was put in the lease that stipulates it extends to a new owner. “We gave the school up to 15 years when the documents originated. We felt that was as many years as you could realistically plan.”
There was hearsay that the school would get kicked out if a deal closes. “Someone put a flyer together and told people stuff that was misleading, like the building would get demolished,” Oren said. “I don’t know how these rumors get around; it’s not even close to true.”
The church probably gets a call once a month about the real estate, Oren said. “It’s a property of interest to people. The challenge is affordability. The value keeps going up. And the school has difficulty making a commitment beyond a few years.”
White Bear Lake Community Development Director Anne Kane said future redevelopment would involve a neighborhood mixed guiding for the property to allow multifamily. The concept depicts multifamily housing, with townhomes further down the corridor, then transitioning to single-family homes.
“We want to provide the best suitable buyer or tenant we can,” Oren asserted. “We want to be a good community member and good stewards of the property. When we transitioned from churches renting the property to the school, we felt it was something the community could get excited about. As an owner, we are proud to lease to the academy. They do a great job.”
Rockpoint broke ground for its new church at 2600 County Road E in 1972. Only then it was the Lakewood Evangelical Free Church, led by Rev. Donald Leigh. The name changed about the time the church relocated to Lake Elmo.