Renderings of United Properties' Gateway Project, looking north down Hennepin Avenue at night

The Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association's meeting Monday night served as the first public forum for the Nicollet Hotel Block project, attracting hundreds of residents.

Both the project architect, LHB's Bruce Cornwall, and Bill Katter, executive vice president of United Properties – the master developer on the ambitious plan – outlined the team's vision and fielded questions posed by residents. City Council member Jacob Frey was on hand to answer political questions about the city-owned parcel that has been the subject of an unusally high-profile development competition.

Here is a sampling a questions and answers from the meeting:

Q: Will the general public be allowed to use the large steps leading up to the hotel lobby?
A: "It will be a very public space," said Katter, who explained the design would siphon off pedestrians accessing the skyway to the public library so that it wouldn't disturb the hotel lobby, also at the top of the staircase.

Q: How witll the skyway connection fit into the whole system?
A: There are connection points built into the library that would facilitate skyways across 3rd Street, 4th Street and Nicollet Mall. The latter would connect to a "future development," said Frey. The block across the Mall from the library is known as the Ritz Hotel Block, which is also currently a surface parking lot owned by Opus Development Co. The Minnetonka-based developer is currently working with the City of Minneapolis on its plans for that site, which will likely be a mixed-use tower.

Q: How was the number of parking stalls determined?
A: "We estimate we can go down two levels (underground) before hitting rock," Cornwall said. He added that the city doesn't have too many requirements for the number of stalls, saying their one-stall-per-unit plan is more market-driven than based on regulations, and that the team wants to avoid any above-grade parking in order to maximize the public plaza.

Q: Why are these units apartments and not condos?
A: The answer is simple: litigation. Frey explained that Minnesota law maintains that condo owners can sue the building's developer for up to ten years after construction for any structural defects, even minor ones. This discourages developers from building owner-occupied units, Frey said, which is something he hopes to see changed in the city. Katter added that it's likely "a minimum of three years until this project is ready" and if the environment changes in their favor, "we will not rule out home ownership" for units in the tower.

Q: When will you make your final investment decision on this project?
A: "The final investment decision will happen this fall once we've completed our schematic designs," Katter said.

Q: One of the other proposals had Kare 11 committing to a studio in its building. Is there any thought to trying to get them to join your project?
A: "Nothing would make me happier than having the Twin Cities version of The Today Show sitting in a studio on this plaza," Katter said.

Rendering of United Properties' Gateway Project, aerial view.Katter debunked rumors that United was open to adding a dozen or more floors to its plan.

The team also revealed more design elements that are becoming evermore detailed as the team has more time to work on its drawings. 

A considerable amount of coordination is underway to help activate Cancer Survivors Park across the Mall from this site. The team is looking to place a performance platform, dubbed Upper Garden Plaza, on the edge of Cancer Survivors Park to draw pedestrians across the street, encouraging use of both public realms.

As for the oval ice rink in the middle of the public plaza, which could serve as a fountain in the summer, Katter and Cornwall are working to turn that into "skate trails" rather than the traditional circle so as to make the rink more interesting for users.

The team also revealed more details about The Canopy Hotel, a new boutique brand by Hilton. 

Hilton is being selective in its locations for the new chain, Katter said, as it wants the hotels located only in "great neighborhoods" where each Canopy is customized to fit the local environment. The Pearl District in Portland, Ore. and the South Loop in Chicago are a couple of the dozen or so locations planned.

Of course none of the details are final as feasibility studies, budgets and city approvals must still be addressed.

Rendering of United Properties' Gateway Project public plaza

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