Neighborhood leaders criticize twin condo tower's look

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April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

A proposal for a 24-story condo tower next to the New Central Library at the corner of Hennepin & Washington avenues has drawn a tepid response from Downtown neighborhood leaders.

Pitched by Jim Stanton of Coon Rapids-based Shamrock Development and Downtown's Bruce Knutson Architects, 540 N. 3rd St., the 133-unit high-rise would be the first of two towers planned for the block now home to the former Food and Drug Administration Building and the vacant Dolphin Staffing Building, 240-258 Hennepin Ave.

Known as the "21st Century" towers, the high-rises would be built above a 21st Century drive-thru bank. Thomas Dolphin, president and CEO of Blaine-based 21st Century Banks, owns the site.

The city's Planning Commission is expected to review the proposal Nov. 8.

The most recent illustration of the building calls for an unadorned brown tower with white balconies facing the New Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, and the tower's northwest side. At street level, the tower would feature a white faade covering a seven-story parking ramp.

At a recent Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA) meeting, board members criticized the tower's design, saying it wouldn't complement the New Central Library, a landmark building designed by acclaimed architect Cesar Pelli rising across the street.

DMNA Board Chair Tom Hoch said the group has an obligation to work with the developers to ensure the towers blend in with surrounding structures.

While Hoch applauded the developers with coming forward with a plan for high-density housing on the block, he'd like to see a more inspired design.

"This building and the second tower will sit at an important location. It's proximity to the new public library demands that it aspire to a high level of architectural design," Hoch said. "In both design and materials, it must complement the new library that all of us are supporting. ... There is very little that is visually interesting about it."

He said the design appears better suited for the Warehouse District than Downtown's Gateway area.

The DMNA board was also skeptical about the need for an above-ground parking ramp. The proposal calls for a seven-story parking ramp with five levels above ground. The board also raised concerns about the potential for the exposed balconies facing the library to become cluttered eyesores.

Stanton and Knutson said they had not received the feedback from DMNA when contacted late October.