As polka and pierogi fans mourn the 2015 closing of Nye’s Polonaise Room, there’s already a new plan underway for the site.
Schafer Richardson, a Minneapolis developer, signed a joint venture agreement with the owners of the property to build a mixed-use apartment building.
The partners expect to approach neighborhood and city officials in coming weeks with plans that, at the moment, are still taking shape.
“It’s not a six-story project. It’ll be concrete and steel, 10 or 20 or 30 stories,” Brad Schafer, a principal at the firm, said Tuesday. “We’re not sure.”
The owners of the restaurant and bar, brothers Rob and Tony Jacob, approached several developers and recently decided to work exclusively with Schafer Richardson, which has redeveloped several historic buildings in the city.
“They’re not selling. We’re joining with them,” Schafer said.
Nye’s co-owner, Rob Jacob, said that he and his brother, Tony, chose Schafer Richardson as partners because of their reputation for development projects that have helped improve northeast Minneapolis. That includes the redevelopment of the nearby Banks building. “We really thought they would be great partners,” Rob Jacobs said, noting that the four buildings in play need significant improvement.
“Those buildings are really run down, they’re falling apart and that’s why we’re not redoing the place — it would cost a fortune,” he said. “My dream is that this would be a gateway to northeast … I want to make sure that it’s respectful to the area and to the church, then I’ll be satisfied and happy with that.”
Earlier this week, the brothers also said they had struggled for years to make Nye’s work financially.
Nye’s has been a fixture along East Hennepin just across the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis for 65 years. The restaurant and bar is actually a patched together row of brick storefront buildings with a half-block of parking around them.
Schafer said it’s unclear whether the existing buildings can be incorporated into the new building.
“We’re respectful of the history of the property and if there’s a way to pay homage to the history of the buildings, we’re all for trying to figure that out,” Schafer said.
Victor Grambsch, president of the Nicollet Island-East Bank Neighborhood Association, said that while the Nye’s buildings are no doubt an institution, the group isn’t wedded to keeping them. “We think it’s unfortunate that Nye’s is going, but no one is going to the barricades to preserve it.”
A recent update to the Nicollet Island-East Bank Neighborhood Association small area plan calls for more high-density, pedestrian-friendly development, especially along East Hennepin, a street that is slowly reclaiming its status as the bustling commercial district it was during the early 1900s.
The group, Grambsch said, doesn’t have a preference for rental apartments, condos or offices, but is committed to bringing more shops, restaurants and housing to the neighborhood.
The group’s top design priority is that the building must be conducive for pedestrians, so the design of the first couple floors is more important than the shape of the tower. There’s no height restriction in the area, which already has at least two residential towers with nearly 30 floors.
Nye’s shares the block with Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, a historic limestone structure with a distinct steeple. Preserving and enhancing views of the church will be one of the design goals.
“We don’t see a fundamental conflict between a substantial, tall building and Lourdes Church,” Grambsch said. “But [the architects] are going to have get out their design chops because this will pose some interesting design challenges … We would like to have something that’s a visibly better piece of architecture than what’s there now.”
In the surrounding area, there are nearly 800 income-restricted and market-rate apartments under construction and proposals to build about the same amount, said Mary Bujold of Maxfield Research.
Lennar, for example, has an option to buy a once-contaminated site where it plans to build a mixed-use development that would eventually have two high-rise towers. And Alatus Corp., the developer of hundreds of condos and apartments in the city, has proposed building a 40-story apartment or condominium tower that would replace the Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel at the corner of Central Avenue and Second Street SE. Both projects have received support of neighborhood groups.
The closing of the restaurant isn’t the first such loss for the neighborhood. Totino’s Italian Kitchen, which introduced untold numbers of Minneapolitans to red sauce and pasta, closed several years ago and was replaced with Red 20, a luxury apartment building that’s just been completed.
Scott Tankenoff, managing partner at Hillcrest Development, which has redeveloped dozens of historic buildings in the area, is not fretting about the loss of the neighborhood’s character. “It’s an undeniable change in the character and fiber in the neighborhood,” Tankenoff said. “But other things will come into Northeast that will add to its character, like the breweries and other new restaurants.”
Nye’s, like all other buildings that are contributing structures to a historic district, must be reviewed by the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission, which will make a recommendation to the city’s planning and zoning committee after a public hearing and comment period.
Elizabeth Gales, president of Preserve Minneapolis, said the HPC usually favors preservation but that such decisions can be overruled by the City Council.
In cases where demolition is approved, the HPC often prods the developer to memorialize the building in some way, with either a plaque or an architectural element that provides a symbolic reminder of the building’s history.
“I love Nye’s for the charm that it has with that foiled, gilded wallpaper, but I understand the development pressures in that area,” Gales said. “But I would like to see the project, if threatened with demolition, get a fair hearing in public. I’m not sure if the larger community would do that, or if they’ll just go and get their last beer.”