Mill City Quarter development heading toward city approval

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June 6, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
A street level view of Ecumen's half of the Mill City Quarter development
Ben Johnson
It will bring affordable and senior housing, new Dutch street concept to central riverfront

A trio of developers is closing in on city approval for the two-phase Mill City Quarter project, which will bring 150 units of affordable housing, 150 units of senior housing and a new pedestrian-oriented street concept to the central riverfront.

Representatives from Ecumen, a national non-profit developer that builds and operates senior housing campuses, met with the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) June 3 to discuss its project before submitting a formal application next month. Ecumen has a similar informal meeting with the Planning Commission Committee of the Whole next Thursday.

Ecumen’s site plan shows a five-story building on the corner of 5th Avenue S. and 2nd Street, just south of RiverWest Condos. The building, which does not have a name yet, will contain 104 assisted living units and 45 memory care units.

“If you look at the inventory of housing that’s been added to downtown, there hasn’t been much senior housing in 10 or 12 years, so we think the addition of some senior housing to the urban core is a wonderful, much-needed compliment to the neighborhood,” said Matt McNeill, Ecumen’s Director of Business Development.

Ecumen’s building is considered Phase Two of the Mill City Quarter project. Phase One, approved by the HPC last November, features a six-story, 150-unit affordable housing complex on the corner of 3rd Avenue S. and 2nd Street, with room for 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail.

Eagle Iron's 150-unit affordable housing development

That building is being developed by Eagle Iron Partners, a joint venture between Lupe Development and Wall Companies.

“We’re pretty careful not to make our affordable housing look and feel like it’s something less than any other type of housing available on the market,” said Steve Minn, vice president of Lupe Development. “That doesn’t mean it’s high-end, we’re not going to have granite countertops, and we might not be able to provide a dog-walking concierge.”

Eagle Iron has an agreement to buy the site from the city and recruited Ecumen as a sub-developer.

The combination of affordable and senior housing is a welcome change from the myriad of luxury condos and apartment buildings that have been sprouting up on both sides of the river recently.

“We have to do more to bring people from all different backgrounds and income levels to the ward,” said Ward 3 Council Member Jacob Frey. “This is certainly a step in the right direction.”

An aerial view of the Mill City Quarter development

A new concept connecting to the riverfront

The two buildings will be split by Minneapolis’s first woonerf, a street concept that was pioneered by the Dutch. Roughly translated, woonerf means “living street.” Woonerfs are heavily landscaped and designed without curbs, sidewalks or lane markings, so that cars can only travel on them at speeds under 10 mph.

Minn said he anticipates it being a privately owned, publically accessible space that will create a new, pedestrian-focused connection to West River Road. Architectural plans submitted to the HPC show 78 parking spaces lining the woonerf, which cuts diagonally across the two-block parcel from the corner of 5th Avenue S. and 2nd Street to West River Road near the 3rd Avenue Bridge.

Minn said he drove out to Oregon to look at woonerfs in Eugene and Portland for inspiration, and members of his landscape design team traveled to The Netherlands to get a closer look at woonerfs there.

“The design team understands what they need to do, it’s not just pictures out of a book. We’re highly confident we’re going to do the first one in Minneapolis the right way,” said Minn. Brady Halverson with BKV Group is leading the design team.

Minn said while they are primarily focusing on connecting the woonerf to West River Road, but it could serve as a vital connection to the planned Water Works Park nearby.

Both Ecumen and Eagle Iron Partners hope to receive full city approval this fall and break ground early in 2015. The two projects (and the woonerf) will be built concurrently, and each has a 15-moth construction timeline, making the whole project slated to open summer 2016.

Ben Johnson // 612-436-5088 // bjohnson@journalmpls.com // @johnsonbend