Mill District project targets seniors, lower incomes

  • Article by: JIM BUCHTA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 17, 2014 - 10:41 AM

Project will bring housing for seniors, low-income renters to downtown.

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Phase 2 provides senior housing.

A collaboration among a group of developers will bring much-needed housing for seniors and low-income renters to an upscale Minneapolis riverfront neighborhood.

Lupe Development and Wall Cos. plan to build Mill City Quarter, a six-story, income-restricted apartment building next to a five-story senior apartment complex that’s being developed by Ecumen, a Shoreview-based nonprofit. A landscaped path will cut between the two buildings, providing a rare gateway to the parks and trails along the Mississippi River.

“This project is huge in so many ways,” said Jacob Frey, the Third Ward City Council member, noting that it’s the only senior housing building in the works downtown. “This is a milestone because we as a city need to be able to age in place.”

After years in the planning, the apartments will be reviewed Monday evening by the Minneapolis Planning Commission. The senior housing component will go before the Heritage Preservation Commission in August. Pending approvals, construction of both buildings is expected to begin early next year.

The plan comes in the midst of a downtown apartment construction boom. Few of them, however, will be affordable to low-income renters and none of them provides supportive services for seniors, said Tom Melchior, director of market research for CliftonLarsonAllen.

“It’s a potentially very large market, but it’s an untested market,” Melchior said.

Melchior said aging baby boomers will need more services. And young professionals who live or work downtown might move their aging parents downtown to be closer to them.

Matt McNeil, Ecumen’s director of business development, said the project is the first of its kind for the nonprofit, which typically builds and manages senior housing in the suburbs. “We definitely see a need for this,” he said. “It’s a unique and incredibly complex partnership.”

The project will have 104 units of independent senior housing and 45 memory care units with access to a la carte services ranging from housekeeping to health care. There will also be a restaurant that will be open to the public, a cafe and a six-floor “pub.”

Rents in the buildings, which each have about 150 units, haven’t been established yet. The senior apartments will be competitive with other market-rate rentals in the Mill District, which is between the Central Business District and banks of the Mississippi. Estimated rents in the other building range from $735 to $1,100 month based on a household income of 50 to 60 percent of the metropolitan median income.

Today, the two-block site is now a cracked and weed-strewn surface parking lot along 2nd Street S. between 3rd and 5th Avenues. It’s next to a pair of high-rise condo buildings, a Marriott Hotel and the historic Ceresota Mill building, which was converted to offices several years ago.

The site is only a half-block from the river, but it’s difficult for people to get to it. That’s why Steve Minn of Lupe Development said the team is creating a connection to the river, which will start at 2nd Street S., cut between the two buildings, run alongside Mill Place and dip under the 1st Street bridge where it will connect to an extension of the parkway. The path will mimic a rail line that once bisected the blocks.

“There are so many moving parts,” Minn said. “This has been one of the most complicated projects I’ve ever worked on.”

The feature was modeled after a “woonerf,” a concept from the Netherlands in which all modes of transport coexist, but priority is given to bikes and pedestrians. The word means “shared space.”

Because the site is within a historic district which includes strict design and height restrictions, both developers agreed to work with BKV Group, which came up with two distinct but compatible designs that take cues from historic buildings in the area, including the Milwaukee Road train shed, which has soaring steel trusses and supports. The apartments will be clad with metal panels, decorative metal grilles and masonry.

Linnea Tweed, executive director of neighborhood nonprofit Mill City Commons, said she welcomes the project.

  • related content

  • Phase 1 is apartment units along 2nd Av.

  • BKV Architect Site plan of Mill City Quarter

  • Mill City Quarter

    What: A transit-oriented, mixed-use development with about 300 apartments in two buildings, including housing for seniors and low-income renters; 15,000 square feet of retail.

    Where: Along S. 2nd Street in the Minneapolis Mill District.

    Who: The development partners include Lupe Development, Wall Cos. and Ecumen. The BKV Group designed the two-phase project and Frana will build it.

    When: Construction is expected to begin in early 2015.

    Bonus: The path of a historic rail corridor will be restored, creating a new gateway to the trail system along the banks of the Mississippi River.

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