Downtown Minneapolis is a step closer to expanding a significant new stretch of its skyway system.

Two new skyways, requested by United Properties, are being planned to connect the Minneapolis Central Library with the developer's proposed 37-story Gateway tower and also connect the library with Opus' new luxury apartment tower across Nicollet Mall called 365 Nicollet.

The Hennepin County Board's public works committee this week approved a skyway agreement with United Properties and Opus, the two companies whose buildings would be joined to the library.

Under the terms, the county won't be on the hook for design, construction, operation, maintenance or security costs of the new skyways, or for necessary renovations to the library. The board is expected to take a final vote on the agreement next week.

Hennepin County is involved in the skyway deal because it operates the Central Library, the flagship of the county library system. Skyway construction would be completed in 2021, the same time that the Gateway development would be finished.

"We are pleased that the county approved the construction of the skyway to the Gateway tower," Nicole Garrison, spokeswoman for RBC Wealth Management, the lead tenant in the Gateway project, said in a statement.

"The skyway will not only benefit our employees, but everyone who works and lives in the city by providing a link between the North Loop area and the downtown core," she said.

North Loop connection

Developers and business owners in the North Loop have persistently clamored for a connection to the skyway system, said Steve Cramer, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

There have been six new skyways in Downtown East through Wells Fargo Bank and several parking ramps connected to U.S. Bank Stadium, but the new library skyways will be key to further development on downtown's north end, he said.

"I've heard from some developers that if they are trying to get financing in the downtown core, they have to be connected to the skyway system to find financing," Cramer said.

The building jump-starting the new skyways is the proposed skyscraper to be anchored by RBC, which would occupy up to 370,000 square feet in the building and move its headquarters there from its current location at Nicollet and 6th Street.

The $330 million Gateway tower, which would rank among the 10 tallest buildings in Minneapolis, is planned to also include a 280-room Four Seasons Hotel and 22 condominiums.

United Properties approached county officials as early as 2015 to discuss skyway connections with the Central Library, said Michael Noonan, the county's real estate manager. The project evolved over the next several years but United Properties didn't pick up the skyway discussion again until 2018, he said.

"It's standard in the business that those who want skyways will pay for the skyways," he said. "Hennepin County wasn't looking to build more skyways, but we were more than happy to accommodate the builders."

Last year, the county built a skyway linking its new Hennepin Healthcare Clinic and Specialty Center in downtown Minneapolis with the main HCMC campus. It will construct a skyway from a new parking ramp to the Thrivent Financial building, which the county bought for $55 million in 2017. The county's share of the cost won't exceed $1 million, Noonan said.

Because the new skyways from the Central Library will be on the second floor, Noonan said he doesn't expect much impact during construction. Another new skyway opened last year on the other side of Nicollet Mall, connecting 365 Nicollet to Xcel Energy across 4th Street.

Cramer couldn't predict where the next downtown skyway might spring up because there doesn't appear to be a natural link. If development reaches across Hennepin Avenue on the North Loop side near the Gateway tower or Whole Foods, another section could be connected, he said.