Whitney condos get historic approval

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July 4, 2005 // UPDATED 1:56 pm - April 26, 2007
By: David Brauer and Scott Russell
David Brauer and Scott Russell

Wider windows and balconies on the historic Whitney Hotel are OK, according to the Minneapolis Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).

The HPC voted June 28 to allow Whitney Partners to add 30 balconies and widen 14 windows on the 150 S. Portland Ave. structure, expected to reopen next spring with 50 condos.

The Commission also approved a plan to elevate the Whitney's river-side plaza 7 feet to accommodate underground parking.

HPC Chair Phillip Koski called the design "a solid project, and we can't wait to see that building redeveloped."

Commissioners had strong reservations about the proposal presented June 14, he said. Some thought that plan modified the historic building so much that people would not recognize it as an Italianate mill building.

The most contentious issue was the number of enlarged window openings, Koski said. The new proposal limits the larger windows to those that open onto a balcony - eliminating many of the larger windows Whitney Partners sought. The architects also proposed a simpler balcony design, Koski said.

Mike Roess, the Whitney's co-owner, called the vote a "remarkable" turnaround that left the redevelopers smiling. He said the group still hoped to get its original request for 69 enlarged openings, 25 fewer than approved.

Roess said he and his partners might appeal the difference to the City Council's Zoning and Planning Committee later in July.

HPC Commissioners had initial concerns about the raised plaza above the new underground parking, Koski said. The plaza would be 4 feet lower than the 11-foot rise originally proposed, and it preserved pedestrian access. The developer provided other design details missing at the earlier hearing, he said.

"We thought the plan, as approved with the conditions that we applied, is a fair balance between offering amenities that will make the units more marketable while maintaining enough historic fabric, so that the preservation goals are maintained," Koski said.

Roess said the developers plan to add three stories to a 1986 structure that served as the Whitney's lobby. The project does not need further approvals from the Minneapolis Planning Commission.

Roess added that partners hope to begin construction in the next 30 days, with an estimated occupancy date of April or May 2006. Units of 800-4,000 square feet would be priced from $350,000 to a $3 million penthouse.

Roess said every unit would have a balcony or patio; some units already had outdoor access that did not need the HPC's signoff.