A maverick Twin Cities developer has revived plans to build what could be the biggest downtown condominium project in several decades on a high-profile site in the heart of downtown Minneapolis.
Jim Stanton of Shamrock Development will go before the Minneapolis Planning Commission's committee of the whole next Thursday to discuss the latest plans for the Eclipse, a 20-story project that would have 360 condominium units and ground-level retail. The proposal is still in the very early stages. Stanton has yet to request a land-use application and didn't return phone calls seeking comment.
The Eclipse isn't his only project under construction downtown, nor is it Stanton's first attempt at developing the site, a 1.25-acre swath of vacant land that occupies nearly half a block along Hennepin Avenue between 3rd Street and Washington Avenue. The area is now owned by 21st Century Bank in Blaine.
In 2006, Stanton said he would build a two-tower, 503-unit condominium on the site, which was once home to the Dolphin Staff building. Original plans called for one 32-story tower with 323 units and another 24-story tower with 180 units. Prices were to start at $300,000. But the housing market began to slow and Stanton pulled the plug on the project.
Stanton's instincts to back away were spot-on. Shortly after he began marketing the project, the housing market crashed.
Today, construction cranes are back with a vengeance in downtown Minneapolis, but developers are focused on building rental housing even though there's a growing shortage of for-sale condominiums. In the Central MLS (Multiple Listing Service) district, which includes all of downtown, there were only 114 condominiums on the market in December, a 20 percent decline from last year and the lowest in decades, according to data from the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors.
Stanton also has been emboldened by the success of a project he's undertaken in the nearby Mill District: StoneBridge Lofts. Construction of that condo project is months from completion, but it's already 75 percent sold out.
"I think the market is there, and I'm looking for other possible projects," Stanton said several months ago.
The latest iteration for the Eclipse has been redesigned by Oertel Architects. Renderings submitted to the city show two towers labeled Phase One and Phase Two atop parking and retail. The project includes 759 parking spaces, which would accommodate the residential and retail activities, including parking for nearby offices.
Mary Bujold, president of Maxfield Research, said that while it's clear that the market is ready for new for-sale housing, it's uncertain what locations, prices and unit characteristics will attract the most buyers.
"He's going to have to think about this one for a while," she said "You're talking about a pretty hefty financial commitment."
Stanton is the only developer to date to build for-sale condominiums in the city, but he has a considerable track record of timing the market well. He's one of the most prolific developers in the Twin Cities metro and has built thousands of houses and condominiums throughout the region. If he proceeds with his plans, it will be one of his most ambitious housing projects to date, and the biggest since the Towers condominiums (now often referred to as the River Towers) were built at 15 S. 1st St. in the 1960s.
Stanton's proposal for the Eclipse is getting positive reviews among people who live and work in the neighborhood.
"I think his timing is really good," said Fritz Kroll, a sales agent with the North Loop office of Edina Realty.
" There is pent-up demand, and a lot of buyers really like buying new and making their own selections. I believe a lot of people that are moving downtown and renting now will love living downtown and [will] choose to buy after a year or two of renting.
Curt Gunsbury, a developer with several holdings in the North Loop neighborhood, agrees.
"I think that would be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood and would fill a hole between the North Loop and downtown," he said.
Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376