A 99-year-old former factory on the edge of a historic neighborhood in Minneapolis is about to get a doozy of an addition: 128 rental apartments and a 17-story tower with 65 for-sale condos.
Chicago-based Vermilion Development wants to wrap its mixed-use redevelopment around the three-story Art and Architecture building as part of a plan that will also include retail and office space.
“We’re thrilled to be in a position to contribute to the growth of the Twin Cities,” said Ari Parritz, development manager for Vermilion Development. “It’s a seriously cool project, and we can’t wait to move forward with other exciting projects in the near future.”
The $50-million-plus project will occupy nearly a full city block along the University Avenue Green Line in the Prospect Park neighborhood, a residential enclave on the eastern edge of the University of Minnesota campus. The Art and Architecture building was built in 1919 and was originally the Wallis Coach and Carriage Co. Today, the building houses a coffee shop and an antiques business.
Vermilion has an option-to-buy in place on each of the three parcels that make up the project and presented its plans to the Minneapolis Planning Commission’s committee of the whole April 12. The developer expects to be back in front of the Planning Commission in late June after working with the Prospect Park Association; and a task force that’s assigned to the project.
“So far the developers have been responsive, attended every meeting, and have listened,” said Vince Netz, president of the Prospect Park Association (PPA). The group set up a resident’s task force to review the plans and has been conducting public meetings every few weeks since January, with two larger communitywide sessions coming up.
Netz said there are several retired architects and planners who live in the neighborhood and have contributed their expertise to the issue, evaluating everything from sight lines to materials to programming to parking.
After the community has had a chance to give input on the project, the task force would offer its opinion to the full PPA board by late May.
Netz said the scale of the project is very similar to what is being built across the street and north of University Avenue, but that neighbors are especially sensitive about the project’s impact on the historic district.
“PPA’s official position is that we support change and density in exchange for more affordable housing, jobs and amenities,” he said. “By engaging proactively with developers we can make projects much better than they otherwise would be, and I definitely believe that’s happening in this case.”
With public transportation and easy access to both downtowns, development pressure in the area has been intense, especially nearest the Prospect Park Green Line light-rail station at the corner of University and 29th avenues.
The Rise at Prospect Park, a 13-story building with more than 330 apartments atop a Fresh Thyme grocery, recently opened. And Timberland Partners is developing Green on 4th, a 240-plus unit rental building that includes 66 affordable apartment units across from where nonprofit developer Aeon plans to build a 70-unit income-restricted building.
Surly Brewing Co. has already invested more than $20 million in a brewery nearby. And just west of Surly, Wall Cos. and its partners are in the process of transforming the late 1800s Harris Machinery Co. Building into the Malcolm Yards Market, an urban food hall.
The Art and Architecture project is distinctive in that it includes condos, a scarce commodity in today’s housing market. The vast majority of the new housing in the neighborhood has been rental, considered more appealing to U students.
Prospect Park is one of the most historic neighborhoods in the city, and so far residents have fiercely defended the character of the district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is best known for its iconic “witch’s hat” water tower.
PPA board member John Kari said there’s been “some strong support for the evolution of the project and some very strong opposition to the height of the condo tower.”
Parritz said the siting of the project takes into account its proximity to the witch’s hat tower. He said the residential tower will have 14 floors of residential on top of 2.5 floors of parking and retail and that because the slope on University grades up as you go from west to east, about a half a floor is underground.
“As a result, if you’re standing in the neighborhood to our south, you’d perceive the condo building as 14 stories, not 16 and certainly not 17,” Parritz said.
BKV Group designed the project. Rents and condo prices have not been set, but the unit mix will cater to a variety of renters and buyers, but it will focus on “older” millennials and single-family home downsizers for both the apartments and the condos, especially University-affiliated professionals, Parritz said.
“The condos should attract those who value urban amenities and single-story elevator living but who also appreciate the stability and warmth of a tree-lined residential neighborhood,” he said. “We’re floor plan and design fanatics, and we can’t wait to offer our best to this community.”
Parritz said he expects to complete all phases of the project in less than two years and he’s targeting a groundbreaking at the end of this year.
The project is Vermilion’s first in the Twin Cities, but it’s not likely to be the last. Parritz is originally from the area and plans to move to the Twin Cities to shepherd the project. He promises more projects but didn’t say where.
“The Art & Architecture project in Prospect Park is an ideal place to start,” he said. “It combines our expertise in both rental and for-sale housing with urban revitalization.”