From the seven-story apartment complex going up near Lake and Hennepin to the crowded bars to the explosion of new retail stores, Uptown is seeing a resurgence.
The latest renaissance puts new residents and developers at odds with some traditionalists who see the dowdy charm of their neighborhood fading behind the facades of chain stores and restaurants. City officials welcome the growth, but they are also grappling with the effect of traffic jams, parking problems and an exuberant night life.
“Unfortunately, I think some people are not as hip to change,” said Daniel Oberpriller, president of CPM Development, which built the five-story, 56-unit luxury apartment project near Lake Calhoun.
Development and the future of Uptown will clearly be one of the issues in what promises to be a lively City Council 10th Ward race where incumbent Meg Tuthill faces four challengers.
After a slowdown caused by the recession, construction crews and earth movers are busy in the neighborhood that fans out from the intersection of Lake and Hennepin.
Some 490 apartment units have been built since 2010. Another 570 units are under construction, and 479 more have gained zoning approval, although permits have yet to be issued.
“There’s an insane amount of money sitting on the sidelines for the last six plus years,” said Stuart Ackerberg, a key developer of Uptown projects. “It’s institutional money and high-net-worth individuals as well. The institutions are looking for places to put their capital to work and Uptown is unique.”
“It’s great,” said Lucia Watson, owner of Lucia’s Restaurant, a 28-year institution. “There’s more restaurants, more shopping; there’s new customers. There’s a new energy.”
But the increase in amenities and the population enjoying them gets mixed reviews, said Jerome Ryan, an architect who is active in the East Isles Residents Association. Though the Midtown Greenway “creates a more vibrant community,” he said the residents are not happy with their new density.“They think it’s overcrowded and there’s a lot of traffic.”
‘This is not Uptown’
Years ago, Lara Norkus-Crampton stood on Hennepin Avenue with a petition opposing Ackerberg’s Mosaic complex, a 13-story structure. “We got hundreds of signatures,” she said. “Everybody said ‘This is not Uptown.’ ” The project was eventually reduced to 10 stories and opened last year with six levels of parking, three levels of offices and two restaurants.
Norkus-Crampton resigned in 2009 from the City Planning Commission over city approval of CPM’s apartment building at 1800 West Lake St. She insisted the height of the building was at odds with the city’s Uptown plan and state environmental standards.
Oberpriller said his company did everything it could to mitigate height. “The land cost is so high we had to have density or otherwise the same rundown duplexes would still be there,” he said.
Traffic and parking are major issues. While some of the new apartment buildings offer on-site parking, not everyone wants to pay extra for it. “The parking has gotten really bad,” said Linda McHale, who says the spaces near her Corner Store Vintage at W. Lake St. and Bryant Av. S. are filled with cars of apartment dwellers. She’s paying the city a $300 fee to get a sign in front of her store that limits parking to 30 minutes so her customers will have a place to park.
The city is analyzing traffic patterns across Minneapolis, and new timing equipment for traffic signals will be finished for Uptown in late 2013 or early 2014, says Allan Klugman, a city traffic engineer. The city will also look at rearranging some turn lanes in Uptown and peak-hour parking restrictions, he said.
Some residents have complained about noise emanating from bar patios, but those issues appear to have been resolved after meetings between city officials, residents and local businesses, who agreed to chip in extra money to pay for officer patrols on weekends. “After roughly four bad years of excessive ambient background noise from the district, and drunks all night in our front yards, 2012 was a much better year,” said Phil Qualy, an Uptown resident.
Tuthill, who helped broker the noise abatement plan, likes how Uptown is evolving. “It is the kind of balance I have been looking for since I ran for office,” she said. “The lakes are right here. Movies. Night life, three grocery stores, at least two pharmacies, working and living and playing, all of it. And we have enough banks that we look like we have a monopoly on them.”
Ken Bradley, one of her challengers in this fall’s election, thinks there should be more neighborhood meetings to seek input before developments win city approval.
A common complaint of longtime residents is the growing presence of retail chain stores, particularly the lineup on the 3000 block of Hennepin Avenue that includes an Apple store.
“That’s what the Mall of America is for,” said Charlee Weekes. “I don’t like new stuff.” She also complains about “the young, well-off people” who have moved into the neighborhoods. “It’s given the area a different vibe,” she said.
Weekes sounds like a grizzled old-timer, but she is 25 years old. Ironically, she tends the new bar on the mezzanine of the recently renovated Uptown Theatre, where moviegoers can relax on plush seats and sofas. “It’s lost its charm,” she said. “There used to be seats where you could feel the springs in your butt.”
The chain store arrivals also chafe Tom Schoenberger, general manager of the Uptown Cafeteria. “The soul of Uptown is not what it used to be,” he said. “It’s not as gritty.”
Kate Turnbull, a sales associate at North Face clothing store, one of the chains, acknowledges that people miss the “homey neighborhood feel,” but said Uptown “is a lot safer than when I was a kid.”
Indeed, safety is what women often cite as a factor in moving to Uptown. Kate Rude, 27, and Amanda Norcross, 26, were standing at the bar at Bar Louis on a recent Saturday night and said they planned to walk home at 1 a.m. to their apartment at 26th and Hennepin. “I feel safer in Uptown than downtown,” Rude said.
Pricing out some people
There is rarely an open storefront these days, said Maude Lovelle, executive director of the Uptown Association.
And developers are filling the Uptown apartments as fast they can build them. The vacancy rate for apartments in southwest Minneapolis, which includes Uptown, was 1.5 percent in 2012, even lower than the citywide rate of 1.8 percent, according to figures from Maxfield Research.
It is making Uptown a pricer market for both renters and homeowners.
Joe Oakley, 66, a retired bus driver, has seen property taxes rise on his house on the 3300 block of Aldrich Av. S. “I can’t afford to live here,” he said.
Daniella Strasburg, 29, moved to Uptown a year-and-a half ago from Eagan because she was “looking to meet more people and have a more active lifestyle.” She said her landlord raised her monthly rent from $750 to $800 for “competitive reasons,” and another increase is coming. She worries “they are going to drive people like me out of here.”
A short walk from her apartment house, a glitzy new seven-story structure called “The Walkway” opens on Lake Street in November, a block east of Hennepin Avenue. It will include a public and private parking ramp, 92 high-end apartments with a concierge, bellman and wellness director, retail stores and two restaurants with a lot of patio seating on the sidewalk and second level. A 20-foot-wide walkway along Girard Avenue will feature sidewalk sculptures and artwork on the building walls.
“It’s going to be elegant and over-the-top,” predicted Clark Gassen, the developer.