Neighborhood panels okay ‘A’ Mill towers

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Several neighborhood panels have decided they are willing to accept tall buildings as a trade-off for benefits in the proposed 1,000-unit Pillsbury A-Mill housing and retail river front development. But, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission may be tougher to please.

That is because the preservation commission will evaluate the tallest structures from the viewpoint of its mission, cite height restrictions, and specify guidelines for the St. Anthony Falls Historic District.

The development proposal is set to be heard next by the preservation commission Jan. 10 at what promises to be a marathon, possibly record-settting, meeting. From there, the proposal goes to the planning commission to request zoning changes, then to city council. The developer is Schafer Richardson, whose offices are nearby in the former Banks building on First Avenue NE.

The site is in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District on the Mississippi River. It includes the Pillsbury A Mill building, described as once the largest flour mill in the world. It is designated a National Historic Landmark.
The proposal calls for renovation of seven historic buildings and construction of six new structures for residential and commercial use on a two and a half block site on Main Street SE. Heights proposed for several new structures are 27, 24, 20, and 15 stories.

The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association board voted in November to support the recommendation by its land use committee to support the development. A neighborhood committee wrote that it gave the project its support “in concept, because we believe it will save the A Mill without overwhelming it, create links between Marcy-Holmes and the Central Riverfront at 4th and 5th Avenues, and will transform Second Street SE into a dense, but livable residential street.” The committee noted, however, “There is no enthusiasm for tall buildings on our riverfront, but we find them acceptable if they are combined with the neighborhood advantages listed above.”

The committee said it will monitor the development as it proceeds through city approvals and will advocate for aspects of the development that the A-Mill Task Force found desirable. The task force is a Marcy-Holmes and Nicollet Island-East Bank neighborhood association committee to review the project. The task force in November supported the development, noting its positive aspects, while acknowledging the building heights as trade-offs that were needed to support restoration of the historic buildings.

At its meeting, task force members and David Frank, a project manager for the developer, agreed that the give and take disccussions produced improvement in the project’s design.

Frank noted that the extra height would pay for the “expensive historic renovations, without public subsidy.” Responding to questions, he said the price range for the housing units is estimated to be between $175,000 and “a couple of million dollars.” Frank said the historic Pillsbury sign will be retained. The entire development is expected to take 10–12 years to complete.

Frank also said the developer is scheduled to start construction soon on Phoenix on the River, a condominium high-rise building across 3rd Avenue from the A-Mill building.

The Nicollet Island/East Bank Neighborhood Association board in November reportedly also voted to support the revised design of the development.

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