A Twin Cities developer wants to develop a five-story, 82-unit rental building at what is now the site of Curran’s Restaurant on Nicollet Avenue in south Minneapolis.
Alex Gese presented his plans this week to the Minneapolis Planning Commission’s committee of the whole (COW).
Dennis Curran said that after 72 years in business, the pandemic is forcing him to close the restaurant at the corner of West 42nd Street in the Kingfield neighborhood known for its all-day-breakfast, vinyl booths and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
“The virus really cut into our business,” he said. “And I’m 68 years old and can’t do a third of what I used to. If I were younger, I’d consider riding this out.”
Curran’s parents started the business four years before he was born. The first year they served hamburgers, hot dogs and pop, he said. The second year they added French fries.
“I spent most of my time here at the restaurant working 70 to 90 hours a week,” he said. “I’ve been here so long and know so many people it’s very difficult.”
Curran said he’s a big fan of Gese’s plan, especially because the new building would include community space. The land and buildings are under contract and won’t close for several months, but he’s running out of Paycheck Protection Program money and plans to shutter the business within seven weeks and retire.
The first floor of the proposed apartment building would include a lobby and community/club and fitness rooms. There also would be a dog-wash room in the lower-level parking garage that would include 36 enclosed parking spaces on the site. A rooftop patio would be built as well.
That stretch of Nicollet Avenue is a mixed-use corridor with residential, retail and service-oriented businesses. Though the city encourages developers to include street-level retail in residential buildings, it’s not a requirement in that area.
Gese said he will consider several suggestions based on feedback from the committee, which doesn’t vote and makes no binding decisions. Much of the discussion at the Thursday meeting focused on the absence of commercial space in the building, which is directly across from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.
Gese is already heavily invested in the area and said he has a deep understanding of the retail scene there. He has ownership in commercial buildings that house the Nighthawks Diner & Bar and Five Watt Coffee. He said he has discussed the plan with the neighborhood development group and will next discuss it with neighbors.
“We will make some modifications based on feedback,” he said. “I want to be respectful of the COW and really think about what they had to say.”
The Planning Commission committee is one of the first formal steps in the city approval process. Gese is seeking variances and conditional use permits, including slightly increasing the height of what’s already permitted in the area.
Plans call for units that range from studios to three-bedroom apartments including some that would be affordable to low-income households under Minneapolis’ recently adopted inclusionary zoning policy.
In addition to the dedicated affordable units, Gese said the project was designed to provide modern apartments at a competitive and attainable price. Not including commercial space, which has become increasingly difficult to lease, will help make rents more affordable, he said.
“Especially now with COVID-19 it feels like to program retail space there would be probably not be the highest and best use for the building,” he said. “There are so many storefronts in the neighborhood, we don’t want to take away from the viability of those buildings and their owners.”
Rents haven’t been set, but Gese said prices should be affordable to people who work in the service industry in the area.
Principal architect Evan Jacobsen of Tushie Montgomery Architects said in a statement the building was designed to be “both sensitive and complementary to the existing context of the neighborhood.”
While the five-story mass has a strong presence along the adjacent park when viewed from the north, the southern portion of the building steps down in mass and backs farther from the street to ease transition to the existing environment.
Material includes brick, metal panel and fiber cement siding that helps “visually reinforce the building ‘stepping up’ to the intersection and ‘stepping down’ as it nears the adjacent properties,” Jacobsen said.
“This movement in massing and materiality helps to create a strong presence to anchor the corner of 42nd and Nicollet, while also responding to the adjacent properties in both scale and setback,” he said.
Though other parts of city have more available apartments than renters, Kingfield is underserved and hasn’t seen any significant multifamily construction in decades.
Gese has two other projects in the city under construction, including KOLO, a 41-unit building he’s codeveloping at W. 36th Street and S. Bryant Avenue. The other is Linden Flats, another 41-unit rental building at W. 44th Street and S. Beard Avenue in the Linden Hills neighborhood.
“I like the more boutique-style buildings,” he said. “It’s more appealing to me personally, they fit into these neighborhoods better.”