325-unit high-rise proposed for Central Avenue site

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Two Central Avenue landmarks, the Washburn McReavy Funeral Chapel at 200 Central Avenue SE and the St. Anthony Athletic Club just east of it, might be razed for highrise housing next year, if a Minneapolis-based developer’s plan goes through.

Alatus representatives Robert Lux, president, and Jon Fletcher, project developer, recently secured letters of intent to purchase both properties, as well as preliminary neighborhood support from the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association (MHNA) and the Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood Association (NIEBNA). At this point the project, still in its conceptual stages, includes a 325 unit, 35-story, 11,000-square foot residential tower with a restaurant, green space and public art at street level. There might also be townhouses near the public parking ramp, just east of the athletic club.

NIEBNA president Victor Grambsch said that neighbors thought the proposal over for a while before making a decision. The buildings lie in the city’s St. Anthony Falls Historic District, where guidelines recommend that buildings be eight stories or less. One person commented that if they keep tearing down buildings in the historic district, pretty soon there won’t be a historic district. Eventually, however, he added, most people decided that they liked the Alatus proposal.

“This really is the wave of the future, to have a high-density project in that part of the neighborhood. If you’re going to build 300 apartments, it’s better to have a tall, skinny building that won’t fill up the sky as much. One side of it won’t be in shadow for long. Basically, we think it’s a good idea,” Grambsch said.

“Density is the heart and soul of sustainable growth,” he added.”This building will take up less than a third of a city block. The new residents will walk places. They’ll go to the movie theater across the street and they’ll take public transportation. Having around 600 new customers won’t hurt Lunds or Kramarczuk’s any, either. As we have more density, pretty soon you won’t need to drive anymore.” (The Lunds grocery store at Central and University and Kramarczuk’s Sausage Company on East Hennepin are both near the redevelopment site.)

City planner Janelle Widmeier said Alatus has done an informal review for the Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) and the city’s Planning Commission. So far, Alatus has not submitted formal applications to either group, which is the next step. “The HPC will be looking at the demolition of a historic building. The mortuary added onto the original building, which is still there; they built an addition in the 1970s to make it L-shaped.” She said that the athletic club building is not historic.

The St. Anthony Falls Historic District, Widmeier added, is quite large, spanning across the river to the A Mill, and all the way to East Hennepin. A map of the district can be found on the city’s website, www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us.

William McReavy, Jr., whose family owns the Washburn McReavy chapel, said that they are willing sellers, because the demographics have changed in Minneapolis. “At one time the only funeral home in the state of Minnesota sat on that site, on the banks of the Mississippi River,” he said. The building that stands there now was built in 1929. “It was the former St. Anthony Men’s Commercial Club. In the 1950s, my grandfather, Donald McReavy, wanted it for a funeral chapel, but it wasn’t for sale. We got it from them 20 years later. My father [William McReavy, Sr.] was able to fulfill my grandfather’s dream when he bought it in 1970.

“It used to be that the funeral chapels in the city were the really busy ones,” McReavy added. “From 1970 to 1983, that was our main location. That was where everybody was living and dying. When they built the suburbs, the demographics shifted. We now have funeral chapels in the city and the suburbs, and people are choosing the suburban locations over this one.”

Robert McNamara, Jr., member of the St.Anthony Athletic Club—which his father, the late Robert McNamara, Sr. co-founded in 1967—said that the potential buyers’ plans are “still on the drawing board.”

Alatus, he added, “has developed gorgeous condos, for example the five-star Carlyle. We hope they can design something nice for our side of the river.”

Jon Fletcher, of Alatus, said that the company wants the site for several reasons. Its nearby neighborhoods have “great character and energy,” and the new building will offer “spectacular views of the river and downtown skyline,” as well as easy access to transit and jobs downtown. Prospective tenants for the market rate project, he said, might include “a diverse population of early and mid-career professionals, couples, empty nesters, and some families with children in our larger units and town homes.” Alatus staff members are preparing application materials now and will submit them as they are ready, he added, which will likely be this fall. Alatus projects include the Carlyle Condominium Tower on 3rd Avenue in downtown Minneapolis; the redevelopment of Hennepin Avenue’s Block E into Mayo Clinic Square; and a 13-story apartment tower, Latitude 45, on Washington Avenue S. Mayo Clinic Square and Latitude 45 have 2015 estimated completion dates.

Another neighborhood group representative, Hung Russell of Marcy Holmes, co-chairs the land use committee. Russell said that MHNA’s recent master plan, finished in 2013, earmarked areas for high density development. “Some people were concerned about having a tower there, but when you look at most urban centers you see increased density. One thing about a taller tower is that it is more slender and will be more elegant. The developer was looking for some support of their development, and we support them at the point they are now.”

Third Ward City Council Member Jacob Frey said, “The fact is that this parcel will be sold at some point in the near future. It is a high-value piece of real estate, and this [proposed] building will offer substantial tax revenue. It will also create a beautiful gateway to downtown.

“The city as a whole is very clear about having a goal of growth,” Frey added. Also, because of its height, contractors must use high quality materials, which means steel and concrete. (Minneapolis building codes permit stick frame building up to six stories.)

He said that while he favors retaining the historic integrity of the area, “at the same time we can grow. New development helps us keep the historic buildings.”

For information on the project, contact City Planner Janelle Widmeier, 612-673-3156.

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