Debate over the Wave condo project rolls on

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February 26, 2007 // UPDATED 11:03 am - April 26, 2007
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch

Developers facing mounting opposition

Developers of the Wave condominium project now have three weeks before their option to purchase the riverfront site expires.

In the past two years, the development has changed hands and undergone an archaeological dig, a redesign and an environmental review. Now the project may halt altogether if the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board decides not to extend the purchase option.

“As district representative for that area, of all the issues in my 13 months of tenure, on no other issue have I received so much e-mail,” said Park Board Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom (4th District). She said that with the exception of the developers, everyone who contacted her opposes the project.

“If I’m coming at this from a purely representational point of view, then it’s a resounding no,” Nordstrom said. She said the project appears too large for the site.

The Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA) held off judgment on the project for several months while task forces weighed in, public meetings took place and the developer altered the building design. The neighborhood board passed a resolution opposing the project this month.

“It was just a huge victory,” said DMNA Board Member Andy Hauer. “Every time I get in an elevator I hear someone asking me about the Wave because they’re so opposed to it. They’re so opposed to the Park Board giving up that land containing those ruins and putting that project in there.”

The development team Omni Investment has worked to appease concerns about a six-11 story building constructed over mill ruins by decreasing the size of the project and shifting the structure away from the ruins. Omni representatives said they used Arundel’s old site plans to reflect the original heights that Arundel proposed. They said they removed 50,000 square feet from the building and lowered its highest point to seven residential stories above one level of parking. The development team said they would also locate a spa in the foundation of the Columbia Mil ruins.

The Park Board talked with the development representatives last week, asking questions about public parking and the city approval process. Development representatives said they believe something could be built on the site, but they could not predict the size of the structure the city would allow.

Commissioner Annie Young said she has problems with a housing development proposed in what seems to be a small area.

“The fact is we continue to say we need green space Downtown,” Young said.

A city committee decided this month that the project does not need additional environmental review to aid the city’s decision on whether to allow construction of the project.

City Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) told the Park Board that the city’s decision was in no way an endorsement of the project. She also said that in most projects, the height proposed would actually be considered 11 stories tall. The height may be 94 feet tall from 1st Street, she said, but it is 124 feet tall when measured from the river.

“These are not likely to pass [city approval],” she said.

If the Park Board does not renew its purchase agreement with Omni, a group of riverfront residents has notified the city of another idea they have for the land. In a letter to the city, a group of 41 people said the National Trust for Historic Preservation is prepared to oversee entrusted funds designated to maintain the site for public use. The writers said they are interested in exposing buried ruins and improving access to the area.

“Hopefully you will regard citizen work to preserve the site for the public as a serious alternative to privatization and the related adverse effects to the area — to the end that a regrettable decision favoring luxury condominiums is not the legacy of the site and the area’s history,” stated the letter.

Rick Solum, a retired Downtown attorney who signed the letter and worked on a task force that analyzed the Wave project, said the group does not want to meddle in the land deal until the future of the Wave project is certain.

“If they do not extend the agreement, we will work with the Park Board on private or public alternatives,” Solum said. “We’re waiting to see what happens.”

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board acquired the Wave site in the mid-1980s to expand West River Parkway. The board needed only the Fuji Ya parking lot for the expansion, but the restaurant owners said they could not survive without parking and the board decided to condemn both the parking lot and the restaurant to acquire land for expansion.

Calling the site a burden, park board commissioners decided to sell the land in 2004 and market it as restaurant space. Jeff Arundel of Columbia Mills Development convinced commissioners that restaurateurs were not interested in the site, and in November 2004, the board approved a land sale to Columbia Mills Development for $2.5 million. The state Legislature allowed the developer to use $750,000 in sale proceeds to build a 85-space parking ramp along the riverfront, with the park board obtaining a $1, 99-year lease of the parking space. The Legislature allowed the state and park board to split the remaining $1.75 million.

At that time, Arundel proposed 15-18 townhomes standing underneath RiverWest sightlines.

Omni partner Mike Moriarty has said the project evolved into a taller height and 38 condominiums when Omni took over to accommodate park board requests, tighten up a sprawling footprint and pay for restoration of the Fuji Ya building. Omni Investment did not return calls for comment last week.