An illustration of Alatus’ proposed tower.

Council panel OKs proposed 40-story condo tower planned for riverfront

Updated: June 17, 2016 – 1:08 pm

A key City Council committee has cleared the way for Alatus’ 40-story condo tower planned for the city’s riverfront to move forward.

The Council’s Zoning & Planning Committee has overturned the Heritage Preservation Commission’s decision to deny approvals for the project on grounds it would be too tall for the area, which is part of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District.

Alatus also secured approvals to move ahead with demolishing the St. Anthony Commercial Club building within three months to begin construction on the project planned for 200 Central Ave. SE. The building was most recently home to a Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel.

The full Council approved the proposed condo tower at its June 17 meeting.

The project has sparked vigorous debate about what is appropriate for the area given its location in the Old St. Anthony neighborhood — the city’s birthplace. The tower site is across the street from the Ard Godrey House, the city’s oldest wood frame house.

Veteran developer Bob Lux, principal of Alatus who spearheaded the Carlyle and Grant Park condo developments, said the project planned for the city’s east bank would make a bold statement.

“We want to move the city forward in a big way,” he said.

Pending final approvals, Lux said the developer would like to start on construction by the end of the year. The tower would feature 207 condos and retailers and a restaurant at street level.

At street level, the tower would feature retail and a restaurant.

He said the project has gone through “exhaustive” neighborhood review and will feature high-quality materials, including limestone which pays tribute to nearby buildings, such as the Pillsbury A Mill.

Supporters of the project said it will bring needed density to the neighborhood, expand the tax base and bring a new modern landmark to the riverfront.

Opponents of the project, however, led by the group Neighbors for East Bank Livability, said it would dwarf the historic properties surrounding it. Guidelines for the St. Anthony Falls Historic District call for height limits of eight stories. They also advocated for preserving the St. Anthony Commercial Club building as part of the development.

Bird advocates also spoke out against the project, saying it would be harmful to birds because as proposed it lacks bird-safe glass.

City Council Member Jacob Frey (Ward 3), who represents the area where the project would be built, thanked constituents for having a thoughtful and respectful debate about the proposed tower.

“There is the ability to retain historic buildings while simultaneously creating a character of our own in 2016,” he said.

He noted that height limits in cities like San Francisco have put pressure on the housing market, leading to skyrocketing real estate prices.

City Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) said she would like to see more tall residential buildings along the riverfront and other parts of downtown. The additional development would take pressure off neighborhoods near downtown facing higher density development.

She said people made similar arguments when the Carlyle was proposed for the other side of the riverfront.

“The Carlyle was a good addition to our downtown,” she said.

The Council committee heard from a large number of supporters and opponents of the project during the public hearing June 9.

Arvonne Fraser, a longtime resident of the area, said the neighborhood needs more density, especially along transit corridors like Central Avenue.

“The great thing about this proposal is that it combines commercial and housing,” she said.

Scott Parkin, owner of Verve Reality who also conducts historic walking tours of the neighborhood, acknowledged the challenge facing city leaders — encouraging growth while still honoring the city’s history.

“There’s nothing wrong with a tall building,” he said. “They can add texture to the neighborhood. … Just because a tall building might be built in the district does not take away necessarily from the very important points of interest that are in the neighborhood.”

He said Alatus’ proposed tower would be “an expression of modernity and progress” for the city.

Bill McReavy Jr., president of Washburn-McReavy, a family-owned funeral home business that sold its property at 200 Central to Alatus, said the family spent years contemplating the best decision for the site and ultimately believed the developer would be the best choice.

“We wanted to put it in someone’s hands that was going to do something really extraordinary and special,” he said. “[The condo tower] will be a great asset for the city of Minneapolis.”

As for the opposition, Bill Griffith, an attorney representing Neighbors for East Bank Livability, said the group would like to work with Alatus to “right size” the project for the neighborhood and find a way to incorporate the St. Anthony Commercial Club building into the new development.

“To approve this project, you really have to set aside your regulatory framework,” he said, noting the historic guidelines for height limits in the district.

Erich Wunderlich, a Marcy Holmes resident, said the commercial club should be preserved.

“Following the developer’s logic will further erode what’s left and will set a precedent that none of these buildings regardless of their historic significance worthy of preservation,” he said.

The tower would go up at Central & 2nd Street SE — a lot home to a former Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel.