Hubert’s, the legendary sports bar next to the new Vikings stadium, may soon have a new neighbor — or possibly a buyer.
Plans are emerging for a new workforce housing project that would sit in the shadow of the colossal football arena, on the same block as the original Hubert’s Cafe & Sports Bar, which stood for decades as the lone example of commercial activity spurred by the Metrodome’s presence.
Community Housing Development Corporation is in the process of either buying or leasing 39,000 square feet of underused land from First Covenant Church Minneapolis, which would remain on the southwest corner of the block.
The project’s team is in the early stages of concept design and will present two options to city staff next week in a nonpublic meeting: one that includes the annexation of Hubert’s land on the block’s northwest corner and one without it.
The reason for the options is Hubert’s future is up in the air. It has told the developer it is considering another suitor.
“For us, the ideal would be to make an offer to them, but we can’t do that right now because they are in an exclusive period with the folks that made an offer on their site,” said Elizabeth Flannery, president of Community Housing Development. “So we are waiting to see if that goes through or not. But we know Hubert’s wants to sell. If we don’t get it, we still have our plan to go forward without Hubert’s land.”
Hubert’s declined to comment. The bar has a newer location in Target Center.
The project would be five to seven stories tall and create between 140 and 150 units for people making $25,000 to $50,000 a year, a housing option city leaders say is lacking downtown.
“We promised growth, but growth with equity. And that means a mix of housing from very affordable to very high end,” said councilman Jacob Frey, who represents a portion of the neighborhood. “We certainly covered our bases in the last half-year with higher-end apartments in Downtown East and office space. And this affordable housing project touches on a segment that has not previously been filled.”
The parcel is just across the line from his ward.
The project’s inception goes back to Ryan Companies’ Downtown East project — the apartment, retail and two-tower Wells Fargo office development on the other side of the stadium. When the Minneapolis developer was working with the city, public officials nixed their plans for a workforce housing project because construction would require tax-credit financing, a public subsidy, and officials believed the projects were already receiving enough from public coffers.
“It is essentially the same concept and we just saw it fitting here, too,” Flannery said. “Ryan and the neighborhood have been interested in helping in any way they can in producing some units that are more affordable-for the low- and moderate income people. The rents on this project would not need assistance, just the building of it.”
Ryan Companies would be the construction firm on this project if it moves forward.
While First Covenant owns most of the block, the proposal is contingent on several things coming together, including a land swap between the church and Hubert’s. The bar’s tiny parking lot is on the northeast corner of the block and the church owns all the land surrounding the restaurant itself.
Flannery is proposing a deal, if Hubert’s sells to another developer, where they give the bar some land immediately next to its building. This would increase the restaurant’s value, she added, and allow their project to span the entire eastern side of the block.
First Covenant sits on a block tucked among the behemoth Hennepin County Medical Center. Flannery and the church leadership believe some HCMC workers would be candidates for the housing.
“As the pastor, I have to attend to the needs we have for the church and that fits our mission in the neighborhood,” said Dan Collison, lead pastor at First Covenant. “At the same time, the church can’t just donate land. We need a market-rate sale.”
Collison also works part-time as the executive director of the East Downtown Council, an organization supporting business development in Elliot Park, the Mill District and everything in between. The entity is a partner of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. East Downtown, a catchall term for the 100 city blocks south and east of 5th Avenue S., stands on the threshold of change, catalyzed by the new Vikings stadium and Downtown East and accelerated by strong market forces.
The church’s leadership voted to sign a letter of intent with Community Housing earlier this week to move forward with the project.
Flannery said the building will be 100 percent brick, high-quality, secure and comfortable “for people who want to live and work downtown but can’t afford it otherwise.”
“We hear from people everyday who are priced out of the market,” she said. “Where we make this work on cost is by providing a nice living space but without the big amenity spaces that a lot of the luxury apartments have around the city. We don’t need to have a lot of parking. It’s highly functional, highly attractive, with a community room and property management onsite.”
Already the new stadium, with considerable help from Downtown East, appears to be shoring up more commercial interest in the neighborhood than the Metrodome ever managed. The fate of the one Dome neighbor that did succeed, Hubert’s, remains to be seen.
“It’s always been a tough location, because you kill it on game day, but there’s not a lot of people over there at night. But that’s all going to change with the Wells Fargo towers, apartments and some of the new hotels over there,” said Andrea Christenson, vice president of DTZ, who specializes in downtown Minneapolis retail and restaurants.
The presence of affordable housing, Frey said, will keep the area active at all times of the day because it introduces alternative work schedules. “We want a constant inflow and outflow of people,” he said.