Star Tribune photo by Tom Wallace

Star Tribune photo by Tom Wallace

Update: Longtime developer, Schafer Richardson, is joining forces with the owners of the restaurant to build apartments. Here's a link to the latest details.

As hipsters and pensioners alike mourn the 2015 closing of Nye's Polonaise Room in Nordeast Minneapolis, speculation is blazing about the fate of the iconic buildings, which are perched along East Hennepin just a block from the Mississippi River. 

The owners of the restaurant, which is actually four patched-together buildings of various ages, aren't talking specifically about their plans for the site, but various sources say there have been very, very preliminary discussions with at least one well-known and unnamed Minneapolis developer.

One thing is clear: Unless a buyer plans to continue running it as a restaurant, it's very likely the buildings will be bought by a developer and replaced with a modern high-rise. Though the buildings are situated in the heart of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, which includes the historic milling districts on the east and west banks of the river, the buildings themselves don't have the kind of historic status that would automatically prevent them from being scraped. Here's a link to the St. Anthony Falls Historic District design guidelines, which governs development in the area. In fact, a recent update to the Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood Association small area plan calls for more high-density, pedestrian friendly development, especially along East Hennepin, which is slowly becoming the bustling commercial district it once was.

P. Victor Grambsch, President of the Nicollet Island-East Bank Neighborhood Association, said the group would not oppose demolition of the buildings and is in full support of a high-rise tower.

" We think it's unfortunate that Nye's is going, but no one is going  to the barricades to preserve it," he said "This will be a relatively expensive site and they’ll [the buyers] will want to build something substantial and we're all in favor of that."

Doesn't matter whether it's rental apartments, condos or offices, he said, the group is more concerned that the mixed-use project that will bring more shops, restaurants and housing to the neighborhood. And the base of the building is more important than the shape of the tower because the No. 1 design priority is making the neighborhood pedestrian friendly. Grambsch said that a slender tower that sits atop a more slender two- or three-story podium is a likely scenario. There’s no height restriction in the area, which already has at least two residential towers with nearly 30 floors.

The site isn't without its challenges. Nye's shares the block with the Our Lady of Lourdes Church - a historic limestone church with a distinct steeple that's long been a neighborhood icon. Preserving and enhancing views of the church will be one of the design goals.

"We don’t see a fundamental conflict between a substantial, tall building and Lourdes Church," Grambsch said. "But they’re [the architects] are going to have get out their design chops because this will pose some interesting design challenges...we would like to have something that’s a visibly better piece of archtitecture than what’s there now."

If the buildings are demolished, it's likely the HPC will require the developer to memorialize the building in some way, with either a plaque or an architectural element that provides a symbolic reminder of the history of the building.

The Northeast side of the river is already in the midst of considerable development. Lennar Multifamily has an option to buy a once-contiminated site where it plans to build a mixed-use development that would eventually have two high-rise towers. And Alatus has an option to redevelop the Wasburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel site, where it has proposed building a 40-story apartment or condominium tower. Both projects have received support of neighborhood groups.


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