807 Broadway Task Force asks Minneapolis residents: What matters most?

Twenty-seven neighbors and 33 non-neighborhood people filled out two-page two-columned comment forms after seven developers made 10-minute pitches to a meeting moderated by the 807 Broadway Task Force. The Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education may hear a recommendation from district staff April 23 or into May, on which developer should buy and renovate its former headquarters.

Some people are concerned that the school district has a precedent of going against a formal neighborhood organization stance, in selling the Northrop school to a charter school. For 807, the district retained the City of Minneapolis to conduct a sale process that meant more community involvement than a simple sale but not as much clarity as a request for proposals.

Task Force members say they were impressed that some of the developers modified their original proposals after hearing critiques, questions and information about environmental realities. With about 150 people looking on, here’s what each developer chose to focus on in making their pitch to the community:

Sherman and Associates

George Sherman has been working in urban redevelopment since 1978, and cited the Midtown Exchange (re-use of the former Sears building) on Lake Street as the most similar to this project, though 807 would be a smaller scale. He said they like to do projects that combine housing and jobs at half-and-half, that the concept reduces parking and vehicle traffic demand.

They envision 118 housing units in the top three stories of part of the original building, “its narrow bays and large windows” are very conducive to housing. On the other levels would be business incubators, artist production space, non-profit users and offices, fitness center. The historic brick garage catches everyone’s fancy for some kind of special use, he said. Sherman said construction could begin by the end of the year.

Domain Architecture

This proposal includes building a new two-story commercial building with a restaurant on the main floor and businesses above, and removing both “pole barn” structures and building a loft building where the vehicle garage is now. Remaining land would be green space for tenants and dogs, and to support the arts with a small amphitheater. The basement level of the 807 building becomes parking.

On first and second floor, there would be commercial co-op space for recording studios, production facilities, professional offices and gallery. The former carpentry shop space would make a good restaurant and music space, said Kevin, the presenter. A fourth level would be added in terms of adding greenhouses to the roof to grow vegetables for the restaurant and tenants, and a fitness center to give everyone access to downtown skyline views.

Lampworks

Jennifer Young of Kremer and Young, for “Lampworks” as they would name the complex, paused frequently for applause from about 50 supporters who came waving yellow light bulbs. She recalled the team’s many projects and buildings, starting with the California Building, Ginger Hop, The Bulldog, the Ritz Theater, Casket Arts. They are getting into urban agriculture with a garden on their land at the California Building.

Young took the audience on a visual tour of 807’s spaces and proposed uses, all creative/commercial, suggesting that the building’s public spaces could become a new centralized gateway for Art-A-Whirl and might be a future home of the Northeast Farmer’s Market. They would encourage areas for high-end creative enterprises, and studio space for artists at all stages of career. Young noted that they have had waiting lists to fill their existing buildings for many years.

Dominium

Owen Metz of Dominium said he didn’t expect Lampworks’ kind of applause, “but please don’t boo me.” One of the housing proposers, he said they believe there’s a role for a residential community that is attractive to the creative sector. Dominium is working on both the Schmidt Artist Lofts in St. Paul and the reuse of the Pillsbury A Mill in Minneapolis as housing, and recently finished the Buzza building in South Minneapolis as workforce housing.

Co-presenters for Dominium noted the recent Creative Vitality Index report showing that 5 percent of the jobs in the city are creative, a sector growing by 7 percent. The younger generation is missing from the neighborhood, they said. The community talks about getting people to stay long term, why not welcome them through a housing project like this, and as they mature they become permanent residents. The plan would include a handful of artist live/work spaces and possibly some commercial uses that would serve the tenants.

First & First

Owner Peter Remes reeled off the list of projects First & First has done in Northeast including The Broadway and the Van Buren Building, and discussed Icehouse Plaza on Nicollet Avenue where restaurants have gone into a challenging building. Also on the team are RSP Architects with their experience in adaptive reuse of the former Grain Belt Brewery as their headquarters, and Damon Farber Associates. RSP also designed the new Pierre Bottineau Library and the Hiawatha Public Works facility.

First & First would tear down three of the outbuildings and make accessible courtyard green space. The goal is not to maximize space, but to make a good working environment, said one of the presenters. Parking would be in the lower level of the building, reducing by 150 spaces what’s needed on grade. The redevelopment would be an entirely commercial and community hub.

Hillcrest Development

Scott Tankenoff encouraged a decision to be made based on reputation, and Hillcrest

has a long history in Northeast with over 325,000 square feet in projects. Their model is to offer spaces at somewhat less than market rent, helping businesses get established and grow. Hillcrest finances its projects internally, and has no “hired guns,” all employees, most of them with 20 years or more at the company, he said.

Tankenoff said they do not hire architects but they do manage a clean architectural look with features that keep a building edgy, relevant and desirable. “I did not submit a site plan,” he said. A major concern that will dictate the next step and what the building can be, is 105-115 days to complete environmental testing, the step that requires the longest lead time in any of their acquisitions. “We have to look for lead, after all this was a light bulb factory.” Still, he said a six to nine month turnaround would not be unreasonable. “807 will remain, we may take down other buildings. We’ll keep the parking lot” though it is in dire need of landscaping. “We would deed-restrict it to commercial uses, and maybe live-work, though that is not in the current plan.”

Greco

Charlie Lazor of Lazor Office and a developer of Blu Dot furniture, made part of his team’s presentation. He said Northeast is “defined by makers” needing sometimes heavy equipment that is not within their means to afford. So this project, combining 116 market rate apartments, 34 live/work spaces and 50,000 square feet of commercial would have a swipe-card system giving access to a shared space with shared equipment.

Another presenter said the principle of “highest and best use” points toward multi-family residential, but they took the neighborhood into account and added live/work and commercial in balance.

Next steps

Mark Bollinger, the school district’s staff person in charge of disposing of the property, told the Northeaster in the case of the Northrop school sale, the district saw in the sale to the charter school, more value to the mission of pre-K-12 education, even though the option they chose netted less money. He said also there were a lot of individuals who favored the option the district eventually chose, even though the neighborhood organization’s formal position was for a proposal that would have built senior condos on one part of the site and put a charter school on the other. The charter school in that proposal decided at the 11th hour to go elsewhere.

The school district “will be looking at it for the value to pre-K-12 education. It’s not always just the money,” Bollinger said. “Money is important. I firmly believe [the new headquarters] will pay off in the long run,” and there is a motivation to pay down that debt and be able to put more money into education programming.

“Once we close on it, we have no further control,” Bollinger said. The district would like to sell to a project that will be a good neighbor. “They will have to go through CPED” for plan reviews and such, that’s one reason the City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department was brought in to help: they would be familiar with the site and process.

“Everyone has done just a fantastic job. CPED…and the community has been very involved. They were involved” from the first inkling that the district headquarters could move. “They’ve been respectful, creative, very good about it. They make their points very clear, tastefully, and want to make sure their point gets across,” Bollinger said.

“The bottom line is I make up my own mind” given all the input. He’ll be getting a report from CPED (Haila Maze, the staff assigned, was expected to finish her report March 29) and he’s reviewed the task force’s materials and meeting tape. He’s asked the group for a recommendation. He will make a recommendation to the superintendent who will consider it and bring her recommendation to the Board of Education.

Anyone hoping to speak to the matter can attend any school board meeting and be heard under “delegations,” as the 807 Broadway Task Force did on March 12 and may again on April 9. Matters such as these may be introduced at one meeting and then be voted on at a subsequent meeting.

“We’ve seen a great group of people making offers,” Bollinger said, some with whom the district has had experience, others with great local reputations. While he declined to even state a dollar range of offers received, he said that some would probably meet the value stated in appraisals the district obtained.

Bollinger said he came to the district in 2010 but has been in the construction business since 1977. This is the fourth school district in three states he’s worked for; he’s seen “thousands of proposals” and recently toured 50 buildings looking for a place to relocate the functions that remain at 807, looking for an opportunity to do more than move, but to make something else good happen.

807 Broadway Task Force spokesperson Pat Vogel said the group so far has wanted to stick to their recommendation of only the 100 percent commercial proposals because they want to see the local jobs lost in the school district headquarters move, to be replaced. But they didn’t want to choose one over the other because there’s a lot of “gory details,” financial and viability information they do not have access to. The task force met on March 28 and discussed their options.

They are typing up the audience comments and getting developers to answer questions that were submitted in writing before the meeting ran out of time. The 10-minute developer presentations were videotaped and will be posted online; the question-answer session, left off of the first DVD circulated after the meeting, will be added online, most likely on the 807 Broadway Task Force Facebook page.

Mary Rose Ciatti, a task force member, said this process has shown, “if you don’t do something like this you’ll be walked all over.”

Paula Allen, president of Logan Park Neighborhood Association, said “we’re new to this, usually a place is sold and the developer tells the neighbors what they’re going to get. We got to be proactive, and everyone seems to appreciate that we’ve been in the process. We’ve been respectful and informed, and we have a mission.”

Ciatti continued, “I hope it gives them a conscience. I hope it can be the new way to do business in a neighborhood. Developers are in the process of tearing down the old Marshall high school” (which had been re-used as a business technology incubator after that), to put up student housing; an example she sees as a negative.

The potential 807 developers have found neighborhood input “a learning thing,” task force members said. They brought up the vermiculite that’s under the parking lot, a high bedrock shelf under much of the area, traffic congestion and narrow alley that frequently turns into a lake, the fact that there’s no bus route running on Broadway. And that it used to be a lumber yard. “And they all now have mentioned art or artists in some way in their presentations.”

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