A divided Minneapolis Planning Commission voted Monday against the Federal Reserve Bank’s plan for an 800-space parking ramp by the Mississippi River.
The 2 ½-hour meeting pitted North Loop neighborhood residents who said the structure opposes the city’s goals to slow climate change against bank representatives and area business owners who need employee and public parking.
The vote was 5 to 4, with commission President Sam Rockwell casting the final “no.”
Duane Carter, a senior vice president for the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, said he was disappointed with the decision but said the bank will continue to advance the project with the City Council. He said the ramp had strong support of the North Loop Neighborhood Association and many district businesses because of the collaborative design, which included two acres of public green space, a solar-ready roof, electric car charging stations and a bike repair station.
“We appreciate all the comments made during the hearing,” he said. “We believe the ramp would be a great amenity to the city. It was a tight vote, and we will give thought to the next steps we will take.”
The proposed ramp site has an existing 300-car ramp often used by Twins fans or for church events. It was purchased last year by the Federal Reserve for $7.5 million to ease parking problems for its 1,200 employees. The bank planned to keep 100 spots open for the public during the day, as well as evenings and weekends.
The city’s Community Planning and Economic Development Department recommended last week that the Planning Commission reject the site plan and the conditional-use permits required to build a five-level parking structure in the district. They said they ramp had blank walls, few windows, security issues and could cause traffic congestion. Environmental concerns were also raised because of the ramp’s proximity to the river and the Cedar Lake bike trail.
Commissioner Jono Cowgill, who is also on the city’s Park Board, was the most vocal in opposing the project. He said the river was the last place “we need to build a parking ramp and invest in a dying way of getting around in the city.”
Commissioner Amy Sweasy voted to approve the project, arguing that they were responsible for looking at the broader picture of how residents, visitors and employees move around Minneapolis.
“Downtown can’t just be about residents,” she said. “We have to support employers like the Federal Reserve, the biggest employer in the North Loop, which has made great contributions to the city.”
Several commissioners said they weren’t against a parking ramp on the property, but the bank’s plan didn’t satisfy the city’s conditional-use permit. Other commissioners countered that the city approved a similar parking ramp built by Wells Fargo.
More than two dozen people spoke during the meeting. They talked about a petition signed by nearly 300 residents who were against the ramp and the additional 295,000 vehicle trips and 177 tons of greenhouse gases that would be brought into the neighborhood each year.
Leaders from the Warehouse Business District, Minneapolis Regional Chamber and Minneapolis Downtown Council said the ramp was a key development moment for a neighborhood that has blossomed into one of the city’s success stories. Elizabeth Miller, who lives at the 212 Lofts near the proposed project, said she called Carter on a monthly basis and the bank was always willing to listen to the ideas of residents and business owners.
Commissioner Ryan Kronzer offered the final thoughts of the meeting, urging people to rally for more public transportation funding at the Legislature next year.
“If not, we are going to have this debate year after year after year,” he said.