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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

A cultural opportunity for Ely?

Keith Vandervort
Posted 9/11/18

ELY – A Minneapolis couple has proposed to renovate the vacant Community Center here and re-purpose the historic landmark into a facility to house Korean culture and heritage camps.

The Ely City …

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A cultural opportunity for Ely?


ELY – A Minneapolis couple has proposed to renovate the vacant Community Center here and re-purpose the historic landmark into a facility to house Korean culture and heritage camps.

The Ely City Council approved a purchase agreement with the couple and their non-profit K America Foundation last week, but the real estate transaction is by no means finalized.

City taxpayers will be able to sound off on the proposed sale at a public hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 25, and at two public readings of the ordinance required to cinch the deal.

Just a purchase agreement was accepted last week on a 5-2 vote by the Ely City Council.

The potential buyers, Jimmy and Africa Yoon, founders of the K America Foundation offered $30,000 for the building. Terms of the transaction allow for a six-year window and a possible three-year extension for the new owners to complete renovations and move forward with their business plan for the building

Mayor Chuck Novak told the Timberjay last week, “We have a very stringent right of re-entry provision if certain milestones and time frames are not met as we move along in this transaction.” He said the next steps involved in the process are to get a timeline locked in to complete the transaction. “This is nowhere near over.” He alluded that multiple public hearings may be needed.

A business plan by the K America Foundation, outlining their plans for the 80-year-old building calls for Korean summer camp and weekend classes in technology and Korean language. All programs and services of the foundation will be free to low-income Korean American families and adoptees.

“Many Korean families living in the United States are facing challenges in teaching their children Korean language and culture,” they wrote in the executive summary of their business plan. “Traveling to Korea to experience the same is an expensive affair and a challenge to travel with children, hence most families are looking for local options to teach Korean language, history, and heritage to their children. Since summer camps account for six percent of total camping trips in America and average about $1,500 per week, they provide a high-value alternative for Korean children and adoptees to learn the heritage and culture of Korea.”

Paid services and donations will go toward supporting the free charitable programs of K America. The business plan calls for several years of renovation to the building and acquiring at least $3 million in grants and donations.

The plan calls for the building interior to be renovated in such a way as to give a traditional Korean Hanok house feel. “The K America Foundation has identified a strategic venue in the historic art and modern structure of the Ely Community Center. It has a significant architectural standing and is referenced in both the Berkley Living New Deal website and in the guide to Architecture in Minnesota.”

The organization intends to teach Korean modern arts, including dance, film editing and computer programming to Korean children and adoptees from across the country.

Also, during fall and spring seasons, the foundation would reach out to public schools to implement free Korean language programs and invite them for field trips to visit the facility and learn about Korea.

According to a financial overview, the foundation expects limited receipts for the first three years, but projects those figures to grow to $871,092 in the fourth year and $958,201 by year five.

According to the purchase agreement, the closing on the sale will take place by the end of the year. The purchase agreement has several protections spelled out for the city that allow for regaining of the property if certain milestones are not met.

“The city of Ely is willing to sell the building and property at a price below market value, in exchange for the buyers’ promise to rehab the building within six construction seasons,” according to the agreement that commences on the date of closing and runs through July 31, 2025.

The renovation term may be extended for an additional three construction seasons (through July 31, 2028) if the buyer shows:

substantial proof that it has completed 70 percent or more of milestones;

substantial proof that the building sustained a significant natural disaster which caused damages, and which delayed the construction efforts;

substantial proof that the immediate Yoon family (spouse, parents and/or children) suffered from a life-threatening health crisis.

In the first year, according to an addendum of the purchase agreement, building milestones that must be met include basic cleaning and winterizing, evaluations of building construction, roof, heating and plumbing, insuring the building and finding builders and a manager.

In the second year, offices and a camp directors residence must be completed, basic heating and plumbing must be completed for those areas, and maintenance must be continued.

In the third year, larger plumbing work must begin, a full heating system must be in place, glass block replacement must begin, walls and tech lab area must be built and the first floor remodeling construction must be complete.

By the fourth year, construction of the ground floor and camp residence must be complete, ADA ramps and accessibility must be in place, theater, dance studio showers and kitchen and the rest of the interior must be complete.

All K America programs and camps must be launched in the fifth and sixth years, according to the purchase agreement.

“This building has sat idle for the past four years,” Novak said. “We are trying to get new use, a new life, out of it.”


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