Veteran Elliot Park architects propose 24-story condo tower

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May 24, 2004 // UPDATED 1:41 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

The Horty Elving firm moved in when Elliot Park was plummeting; now it wants to capture the upside

An Elliot Park-based architectural firm with a history of designing healthcare facilities is jumping on the Downtown condo bandwagon.

Horty Elving and Associates, 505 E. Grant St., sits in the shadow of the 27-story Grant Park condo tower next to an Interstate-35W ramp. Company President Thomas Horty said Grant Park, 500 E. Grant St., inspired his own effort.

"When Grant Park really started coming out of the ground, we said, 'We really should do something to finish off the development of the block,'" Horty said.

However, the firm wanted to do something with a bit more flair than Grant Park's classic red brick exterior.

Plans call for a glassy 24-story tower with unfinished "New York" lofts, replete with 10- to 12-foot-high ceilings and exposed concrete floors. "We are trying to do something that makes an architectural statement. It's going to be a very contemporary structure with a lot of glass in it," he said.

The firm is considering calling its condo tower the Fifth Avenue Gateway.

Leaving the spaces unfinished will keep the prices down, Horty said. Though prices haven't been set, the firm expects the 900- to 1,200-square-foot units to go for $175,000 to $300,000.

The condo tower would go up on the firm's parking lot -- a half-acre parcel south of its offices. There would be 130-140 units, with some pricier, two-story lofts at higher levels.

The units will come with bathroom, kitchen and laundry utilities. Residents can hire the architects to finish off their spaces or they can do work on their own, he said.

The 30-person firm hasn't decided on a construction partner for the project.

Horty plans to go through the city's approval process after further consultation with neighborhood leaders. He would not comment on the project's cost but said there are no plans to request city subsidies.

Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), who represents the neighborhood, met with Horty Elving and had high praise for the plan.

"I think it's really cool. They are thinking out of the box," Goodman said. "It doesn't clash with, interfere with or blend with Grant Park architecturally. It's a design of its own. I think it's great that private development is happening after Grant Park went up."

She compared Elliot Park to the Loring Park neighborhood 15 years ago. "It's obvious that Elliot Park is also a desirable neighborhood Downtown, and it's been overlooked," she said.

Horty agrees. "I always felt that this corner of the Downtown area was somewhat neglected because people tended to develop more around Loring Park and then toward the river. Elliot Park is kind of by default the last area in the development around the core itself."

The developer

Horty Elving and Associates started out with offices in Downtown's Central Business District in 1955. In 1969, Horty found an abandoned Clark gas station in Elliot Park and contacted its Chicago-based owner who decided to sell.

Horty said when his firm moved into the neighborhood in the early '70s, things were pretty bleak.

"Everyone thought we were a little bit crazy because the area was pretty depressed," he said. "We made the decision that we would ultimately improve this city block."

The firm started to acquire property east of its offices and developed an eight-story apartment building called Grant Commons, now owned by Brighton Development Corp. Since then, the firm has focused on designing facilities for universities, nursing homes, clinics and hospitals (including Hennepin County Medical Center, 701 Park Ave.).

Towers sprouting

When the firm showcased its plans for the Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. (EPNI) board of directors recently, reaction was mixed.

Some board members raised concerns about the project's height -- a common complaint about any Downtown high-rise proposal. Others dismissed the height concerns, saying the tower's location on the edge of the freeway would minimally affect the neighborhood's Downtown views.

The project also has the potential to obstruct the south-facing views of Grant Park tower residents, who are expected to begin arriving in August.

Emily Lippert, a sales associate for Garrison Partners Consultants, the marketing firm hired to sell Grant Park condos and town homes, said a tower to the south wouldn't hurt sales efforts because it wouldn't obstruct views of Downtown.

In general, condo owners facing south are more interested in living Downtown than in stunning views -- and pay less as a result, she said.

Horty Elving's proposed tower comes on the heels of Tandem Development's planned 26-story Elliot Park Lofts at Portland Avenue and South 10th Street. Chicago-based Tandem is about to go before the Minneapolis Planning Commission for approvals.

Tandem approached neighborhood leaders last summer with design plans. At first, the EPNI board urged the developer to chop stories off its proposed tower to keep it around 15 stories, more in line with the neighborhood's master plan.

In later meetings, neighborhood leaders agreed on a 26-story height. The developer argued that a taller Elliot Park Lofts was necessary to keep the units more affordable. Plans call for units with an average price of $250,000.

Horty said his tower's height would be more of a concern if it were closer to the park. "When you are at the edges, when you're so close to the Downtown area, the height should not be much of a concern for the neighborhood. It's really along the freeway system. I don't think it should cause any trauma for people," he said.

Goodman supports the location.

"The unique thing about this project is most people would think Grant Park would be on the outlying area and everything would move toward Downtown. This project is the opposite of that. It's saying Grant Park is not just the line, but it's about development all around Grant Park," she said.

EPNI board member Kent Bakken was among those who voiced support for the proposed height. "It's really knitting us into the Downtown core. It's pulling the skyline into the neighborhood," he said at a recent neighborhood meeting.

David Fields, EPNI's community development coordinator, said affordability and height appear to be linked. No developer has approached the neighborhood with a proposal for new low-cost, for-sale housing at lower heights.

"The economics of development have not yet demonstrated to me how density can be achieved on expensive and restricted parcels without going up," he said.

Traffic worries and amenities

Horty Elving has proposed public amenities to go along with the glassy, modern tower. The tower's south side will feature a large green space bordering 14th Street.

The tower would border a major I-35W ramp that dumps eastbound freeway traffic onto Grant Street and westbound traffic onto 11th Street into Downtown. Horty said his firm would like to work with city and neighborhood officials to slow traffic, possibly making a portion of 5th Avenue one way. Additionally, they would like to add pedestrian crossings or other signs alerting drivers exiting I-35W to exercise more caution.

Horty said he's seen cars careen over guardrails near Grant Park, smashing into trees in a grassy area north of the exit ramp.

The new project will almost certainly face traffic concerns since it would place a second tower -- and new car-driving tenants -- on a once-forgotten Elliot Park block.

Still, more people means more customers. Horty said the firm would like to lure commercial tenants, such as a coffee shop.

Fields, who is cautious to make predictions about the neighborhood's future, noting the condo tower proposals still have hurdles to overcome, said the newcomers to the neighborhood will mean more people will have a "vested interest in the quality of Downtown."

He added, "Twenty years ago, when I worked at another place Downtown, those residents of The Towers were still the only Downtown homesteaders amid some leftover transient apartment hotels. Now witness the renaissance of Downtown living; Elliot Park wishes to contribute by hosting new residents because the neighborhood's fate has always been determined by the quality of all of Downtown life."