Minneapolis is poised to allow more public parking ramps in downtown and the North Loop — as long as no one can see them.

A change nearing approval at City Hall would lift an 11-year-old ban on above-ground, stand-alone ramps in the downtown area. But the rules would also require new ramps across the city to be largely shrouded from view by apartments and other pedestrian-friendly structures.

City officials believe the move could also spur the redevelopment of some remaining surface parking lots, whose owners are interested in continuing a public parking operation in a new development.

"In some places like the North Loop, for example, a lot of people think the city is not doing enough to help them with the real or perceived parking problem," said city planning manager Jason Wittenberg. "So one way that we can do that is allow above-grade garages — but as long as they're done sensitively."

Ramps that are open to the public are distinguished in the city's zoning code from those reserved for occupants of particular apartment or office buildings. Since 2006, city rules have said new public ramps downtown must either be underground or combined with a transit facility, which has hindered their development.

The aim of the rules was to discourage unattractive structures like the ABC Ramps near Target Field and the Gateway Ramp in Downtown East.

"Every downtown block should have active street frontages and a pleasant public realm," Wittenberg said. "And clearly when you walk by [those ramps], that's not your experience currently."

Though allowed above ground under the change, public parking could not occupy the majority of the space on the developed lot.

"We are not going back to the days of a whole block being covered by parking," Wittenberg said. "Even if you're doing a principal garage, it still has to be surrounded by other uses that may or may not use that parking."

Another element of the change tackles the aesthetics of new parking ramps across the city. It limits how much of a building's facade can be parking, expanding rules now applied largely to the ground floor.

That would make it more difficult, for example, to build apartment towers atop parking ramps — such as downtown's 4Marq and Nic on 5th developments. They have retail space on the ground floor, but decorative screens and largely blank walls where the parking decks occupy the next several floors.

Matt Rauenhorst, vice president for real estate development at Opus, which developed Nic on 5th, said surrounding the parking with apartments will pose challenges. It requires the parking ramp to be taller, which adds cost, and cuts away at the number of premium units higher in the tower.

Dan Collison, director of downtown partnerships for the Downtown Council, said he hopes the change leads to more public parking incorporated into private developments.

"Because the city no longer requires parking minimums for most projects, to have then what is built … be flexible, available and adaptable, I think that's positive," he said.

Collison noted that the number of stadiums in downtown is creating parking "pinch points" during multiple events. Better signage is needed to show where the parking is and how many stalls are available, he added.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

Twitter: @StribRoper