Nye’s site developer ponders next step after HPC attaches strings

Schafer Richardson plans to build a six-story apartment building with first-floor retail at 116 E. Hennepin Ave. in northeast Minneapolis. The site is currently home to Nye’s Polonaise Room. (Submitted rendering: ESG Architects)

Nye’s site developer ponders next step after HPC attaches strings

By: Hank Long Hank Long

December 2, 2015 2:18 pm

A proposed apartment development at the Nye’s Polonaise site in northeast Minneapolis received the go-ahead from the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission on Tuesday. But it was unclear after the meeting whether several conditions the commission attached to that approval would prove too costly for the developer to move forward with the project.

Minneapolis-based Schafer Richardson wants to build a six-story building with 71 market-rate apartments on the half-acre site at 116 E. Hennepin Ave. Two of the buildings on the site — a former harness shop and the 112 Hennepin building — are considered contributing buildings to the St. Anthony Falls historic district. The developer plans to preserve those buildings as part of the project.

Late last year the developer announced its plans to partner with Nye’s owners to build a 29-story, 189-unit residential tower. But in September it decided to scale back those plans following criticism from neighborhood groups and Our Lady of Lourdes, a nearby church, over how the tower would fit in the historic neighborhood.

In October the developer submitted to the HPC a downsized project that it said addresses feedback it received from stakeholders while still maintaining its financial viability. The revised 115,000-square-foot development would keep first-floor retail space but reduce parking and would maintain two the historic buildings linked to the iconic bar and restaurant.

Following two hours of discussion on Tuesday, the commission voted 6-4 to issue the certificate of appropriateness for the alteration of two of the existing buildings and construction of the new building on the 0.51-acre site. The approval contained 10 planning staff recommended conditions, half of which the developer’s architects had asked commissioners to drop, citing the economic challenges they would pose to the project.

On Wednesday, Schafer Richardson principal Kit Richardson said his team of architects and contractors are evaluating the impact those conditions would have on the development’s viability.

“We’re working on what the next steps are and whether those conditions materially affect the project,” Richardson said in an interview Wednesday.

Architects for ESG, which the developer hired for the project, told commissioners one of the conditions — which would require the developer alter its design so the proposed building’s HVAC penetrations are not located on elevations facing the public street — could have a significant impact on the economic viability of the project.

Richardson said the prospect of having to move those HVAC penetrations to another portion of the building are a concern.

“[That requirement] affects the economics, the aesthetics, the layout of the units; it’s not just a simple black and white issue,” he said.

The commission voted earlier in the meeting to issue a certificate of appropriateness to raze the single-story buildings on the site that make up the current Nye’s restaurant.

During the Tuesday hearing, commissioners remained divided over whether several of the project’s aesthetics would deviate from the historic guidelines for the district.

Richardson disagreed with those notions.

“It meets all the guidelines; I think the [city planning] staff acknowledged that,” he said.

Planning staff told commissioners that it hadn’t received any comments from the public on the updated project. But Ted Tucker, an area resident and member of the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Preservation Committee, expressed his support for the development during the meeting.

“I find this is a sensible solution, not only in its accordance with the guidelines, but also in terms of how it would impact pedestrian experience in the east Hennepin area,” Tucker said.

A project applicant has 10 days to appeal to the city council following an HPC decision, said Matt Lindstrom, city spokesperson. If the developer decides to move forward with the project it would next need approval from the planning commission.

City Council Member Jacob Frey, whose Ward 3 includes the St. Anthony Falls historic district, said feedback from the community on the most recent iteration of the Nye’s site project has been “by and large, very, very positive.”

The project as currently proposed would retain “two arguably historic structures, add value on an empty surface parking lot and expand the pedestrian realm” along the site, Frey said. “It’s a really nice project. Personally, I really like it.”

Nye’s, a favorite corner bar in Minneapolis, plans to close early next year after more than six decades in business.

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