The oldest two of the four buildings that form Nye's Polonaise Room in Minneapolis will be saved and incorporated into a mixed-use development beside a 29-story residential tower, under plans the restaurant's owner and a developer unveiled Thursday.
A three-story building with a "Harness Shop" sign atop it and a two-story one that curves around a corner, both more than 100 years old, will be preserved, Rob Jacob, the owner of Nye's, and representatives Schafer Richardson, the developer working with him, said at a meeting with neighborhood residents and business owners.
The group plans to move the two buildings together and build other retail and restaurants around them and the new apartment tower. For the time being, the project is being called 116 East Hennepin, for its address just across the Mississippi River from downtown.
The two buildings are connected by a one-story building that was built in the 1950s and is fronted by a facade that somewhat resembles a piano. It and another modern building on the other side of the Harness Shop building will be torn down.
"We're going down the road of making sure that we are doing the right thing, and the responsible thing," Jacob said in an interview. "We're not outsiders coming and saying we'll blast everything out."
His announcement last month that he and his brother Tony were closing the piano bar and restaurant led to an outpouring of nostalgic memories from current and former customers.
It also raised concern at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, which shares the block with Nye's and is the oldest continuously used church structure in Minneapolis. Portions of the building date back to the 1840s.
At the meeting Thursday evening, Steve Richter, business administrator for Our Lady of Lourdes, said church leaders are worried about the digging that will be required for the tower. "Lourdes is a very old structure and, as you go into the bedrock, obviously we are concerned the impact that will have on the building itself," Richter said. "That at this time remains our primary concern."
Maureen Michalski, a project manager for Schafer Richardson, said the firm is just starting to research the geology of the block and doesn't yet know the effect that digging may have on the church.
The Jacob brothers approached Schafer Richardson, which is based nearby, last year to explore options for the property at a time when two other major residential projects are underway in the neighborhood.
On Wednesday, Chicago-based Lennar Multifamily Communities got the green light from a neighborhood task force to build an 18-story tower with more than 250 apartments at the Superior Plating site about four blocks from Nye's.
Alatus LLC, a Minneapolis developer, has been working on plans to build a 40-story residential tower that would replace the Washburn-McReavy funeral chapel at 200 Central Av. SE., just two blocks from Nye's.
For 116 East Hennepin, Michalski said that positioning the two century-plus buildings next to one another will create a pedestrian-friendly storefront and leave room for the apartment tower. "It's quite an expensive cost to keep those buildings and to move them and restore those interiors," Michalski said. "So it's a balancing act."
An initial proposal, endorsed by some members of the neighborhood group, was for all four existing buildings to be razed.
"I think to really make this site a 'go,' these modifications are really key," said Victor Grambsch, president of Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood Association. Even so, he said, "There are going to be people who stand in front of the bulldozers."
With the average rent for the 176 units in the tower at $2,300 a month, the building would yield far more revenue for the Jacob brothers or any future owner than the restaurant currently does. Their architect, Aaron Roseth of Minneapolis-based ESG, said the building's amenities will be targeted to older, affluent renters.
The Jacob and Schafer Richardson firm hopes to get a letter of support from neighborhood representatives next month and then seek city approval. They hope to start construction later this year or in spring 2016.
They and other developers are feeling competitive pressure because of the number of projects in the neighborhood and across the river in the Central Business District and North Loop.
Peter Chmielewski, Lennar's senior development manager, said he's eager to be the first to start construction and would like to begin this fall. "Competition is great, but yes, I am concerned" about timing, he said.
Mary Bujold, president of Maxfield Research, said that the area across the river from downtown is gaining on the North Loop as the city's hottest new neighborhood for shops, restaurants and new housing. "I think that area is like a mini North Loop. It's up and coming," she said.
And while there's already a good mix of housing along the north side of the river, there's only one new apartment project that's still in the lease-up phase. That's the Red 20 apartments, which is also developed by Schafer Richardson.
The firm has renovated several historic buildings in the area, including a luxury condo building called the Phoenix on the River. It attempted to develop the $500 million East Bank Mills condo and apartment project in and around the Pillsbury "A" Mill. But after seven years of planning, the project went into foreclosure.
Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376
Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767