Credit: ESG Architects, Schafer Richardson

Credit: ESG Architects, Schafer Richardson

Church, preservationists oppose plans for Nye’s

Updated: March 10, 2015 - 3:00 pm

When a developer announced plans for a 30-story tower at a site now home to Nye’s Polonaise Room, residents, preservationists and parishioners all took notice.

Now two groups are opposing North Loop-based Schafer Richardson’s proposed development. Preserve Minneapolis and the adjacent Our Lady of Lourdes Church recently released statements expressing concerns that the proposed high-rise would violate historic preservation guidelines and negatively impact the iconic landmark.

While the developer has yet to submit final plans to the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission, approval could spell out major changes to the Northeast neighborhood, which could be home to several more towers in the next few years. It could also be a test for a City Council with several new members who have advocated for sizable residential developments in key areas throughout the city.  

Preliminary plans, released earlier this year, call for a 30-story tower with 189 units and a seven-story podium that would house 252 parking stalls, along with 6,500 square feet of retail space in the new building. The high-rise would rival two other large residential towers nearby, La Rive and The Falls and Pinnacle.

Schafer Richardson also plans to preserve the two oldest Nye’s structures, the three-level “Harness Shop” building and a two-story building at 116 and 112 E. Hennepin Ave. It would demolish the two other structures and push together the preserved buildings, which are both more than a century old.

Preserve Minneapolis said the proposed tower “shows a cavalier disregard for long-standing rules, neighborhood character and local heritage in the city’s oldest and arguably most historically significant neighborhood.”

Doug Mack, vice president of the volunteer preservation group, said they are concerned with the proposed height and materials in the plans, which the group says are a “complete obliteration” of St. Anthony Falls Historic District Guidelines. 

The church’s advisory committee said in its statement that the proposed development would damage the landmark and obstruct sightlines in the neighborhood, among other concerns. Mack also argues that the development would shift the spotlight away from the church.

The guidelines call for a maximum build height of four stories or up to 10 if stepped back from the street. The guidelines also call for materials that fit the surrounding context, which Preserve Minneapolis argues a glass point tower does not meet.

While the guidelines are flexible, not following them should not be the norm, Mack said. He pointed to the Mill District as a place where developers have added dense housing without breaking from the historic character.

“The historic district is an integral part of the neighborhood,” he said. “These are areas that represent stories and the past and how we got here.”

Neither group opposes development, but they would like to see something within the guidelines.

“We support density in the right locations, but it can’t be at the expense of the historic district. There’s got to be a balance,” said Father Daniel Griffith with the church. 

The developer reached out to the church earlier in the design process, but the dialogue has stopped. 

Maureen Michalski, a senior principal with Schafer Richardson, did not comment on specific concerns.

“It’s a shame that they’re not supportive, but it’s not uncommon for any groups to be not supportive on any given development,” she said. “It’s rare that everyone is 100 percent on the same page.”

Neighborhood backs Nye’s high-rise

The plans received support from the Nicollet Island-East Bank Neighborhood Association late last month after a task group recommended the plans earlier this year.

Barry Clegg, head of the task group, and NIEBNA president Victor Grambsch showed support for the proposed tower plans and say it fits within the group’s small-area plan, which the City Council approved last fall. 

They argue that, in this case, density is actually an advantage for preserving history. The developer could not afford preserving the two Nye’s buildings without a return on the investment through a sizable building. Without density, the neighborhood could risk attracting a much less ambitious development and losing all or some of the Nye’s buildings.

“You need a tall building to have the scope to move and preserve the small buildings,” Clegg said. “The best way of accommodating density, the streetscape and historic preservation is in what you see here. That’s the best way of accommodating sometimes-conflicting goals.”

They said NIEBNA expects density, as stated in the small-area plan, so a shorter building that falls within historic guidelines may not have garnered neighborhood support, which is square one for many developers. From there, developers move to the HPC and the city. 

The group recently supported a developer’s proposed 18-story tower and plaza for the high-profile Superior Plating site just a few blocks away. Even closer, there are also plans for a 35-story residential tower and retail complex within the historic district that received NIEBNA’s preliminary approval.

Through large developments like these, Grambsch said, the neighborhood can do its part to further Mayor Betsy Hodges’ goal of having 500,000 city residents. With its proximity to downtown, the transit corridor along Hennepin Avenue is also prime real estate for more population, he said.

“We’re not just barbarians liking tall buildings,” he said. “If you’re not going to build high-density housing here, then where are you going to build it?”

With proposed towers looming ahead, the neighborhood is set to see a test to its historic guidelines and leaders down the road.

Michalski told the Journal last month that they expect a two-year build out for the Nye’s high-rise could begin next February.

“All development projects have different competing guidelines and it’s our job to try to figure how best to work within those various parameters,” she said.