Developers to build low-income housing at scene of deadly pub fire

- Seven years after Minneapolis' deadliest fire in more than 30 years ripped through McMahon's Irish Pub, the property is getting new and meaningful life after unimaginable loss.

Six people died in the fire that went through the pub and several apartments above on East Lake Street. Among those killed on April 2, 2010 was the pub's popular bartender Ryan Richner.

"He was so fun, it didn't matter what was going on, he always put a smile on it,” said Mike Oliver, the bar manager at McMahon’s.

Oliver raced to the scene just hours after he closed up for the night.

"I don't know how long it was burning, but by the time I got down there, that building was a total - It was bad,” said Oliver. “I'm looking at it in disbelief."

He is still grieving the loss of his dear friend and karaoke partner.

After the fire was extinguished and the victims buried, Minneapolis did some serious soul searching. The city changed its building inspection process and a fire marshal was demoted when a myriad of unaddressed pre-fire code violations came to light. 

The gutted building was eventually knocked down. The vacant property became a tragic scar on busy East Lake Street. The only sign of life for the last several years was a small floral memorial for the victims, tended to by neighbors.

"McMahon's was real popular spot,” said Bob Bono of Alliance Housing Inc. “The Poodle before that was a real popular spot. Music and food and everything, just really quiet all these years."

But now there is hope that something positive could finally rise from the ashes. The financing and paperwork is in place for a low-income housing project, specifically targeting homeless seniors. It's called Minnehaha Commons with more than 40 studio apartments in a stunning new building.

"Of the 43 units, all but five will come directly from the shelter or the streets,” said Barb Jeanetta of Alliance Housing Inc.

Jeanetta and her team at Alliance Housing Inc. are the developers behind the project. They explained that affordable housing is at crisis levels in Minneapolis, particularly among older residents. With final renderings and floor plans drawn up, Alliance is hoping to open the doors within a couple years.

"It's just great to see something there,” said Bono. “Been vacant for so long. And for something that fills this great need in this town makes it that much better."

Ryan Richner's loved ones agree that an affordable housing project is the perfect use for such a tragic corner of the city.

Richner, who lived upstairs above McMahon's, would open his apartment to anyone who needed a place to sleep for the night. On the night of the fire, his girlfriend's family, who had no other place to go but the streets, were staying there and then died alongside the 25-year old.

"Ryan was always that kind of person,” said Denise Schmidt, Richner’s mother. “He'd do anything he could to help anybody and everybody. It's a great thing to go up there." 

As for Oliver, who every April 2 toasts his buddy with some Paddy's Irish Whiskey that survived the fire, he believes Minnehaha Commons will have its own guardian angel.

"It'd be great for Ryan to watch over anyone who goes into that facility," he said.

One idea developers are talking about for the project is installing a plaque with the names of the fire victims.

Several members of Richner’s family as well as friends have named children after him. There's also a bar called Ryan's Pub in Minneapolis, which is another way people are keeping the young man's legacy alive.

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