MIA expansion gets green light in split council vote

The City Council last month gave the green light to Minneapolis Institute of Arts' $50 million expansion, but only after four of 12 councilmembers voted against the project and another abstained, indicating that the project does not have wholehearted city support.

Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward), who represents the neighborhood where the MIA is based, voted against the plan. He was joined by councilmembers Robert Lilligren (8th Ward), Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward) and Dan Niziolek (10th Ward).

Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) abstained, but made clear his skepticism. He accused the MIA of "playing fast and loose" with parking in the area around Stevens Avenue, a major point of contention in the neighborhood. The MIA's plan would eliminate 60 parking spaces while likely adding to traffic in the neighborhood.

The 7-4 vote shot down an appeal of a Planning Commission decision that granted the art museum a conditional use permit for its 117,000-square-foot expansion, which figures to stretch 320 feet along the 2500 block of Stevens Avenue.

Paul Smith, a city zoning inspector who lives across the street from the project, appealed the Planning Commission's decision. Smith charged the project would violate the Minneapolis Plan, the city's primary development-policy document.

Some councilmembers voting for the project criticized the MIA for leaving neighborhood residents out of the project's planning until late into the process. But they said the MIA fulfills a broader city and regional need, and that its officials have listened to residents, changing some of their plans to accommodate neighbors.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said MIA officials have resolved or are working on the main problems residents have with the project involving its height, parking availability and the placement of a museum delivery dock.

"This has not been perfect," the mayor said. "I could throw a lot of darts in a lot of places."

Nonetheless, he encouraged councilmembers to vote for the expansion. So did Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward).

"There always will be concerns. Change is difficult," said Goodman, adding she was sympathetic to neighbors, some of whom could have their morning sunlight blocked by the expanded museum.

"But it is time to make a decision," she said. "This is a time when a lot of not-very-good things are happening in Minneapolis … But the MIA is committed to serving people in the city and the region, for free. This is something good that is happening."

City residents pay a levy to support the MIA through their property taxes.

Though he voted against the project, Zimmermann introduced an ultimately successful amendment that added 12 conditions to the project. Among them:

  • Dropping the height of the Stevens Avenue side's expansion by 10 feet, leaving the height limit at 65 feet.

  • Modifying the loading dock and curb cuts to facilitate safer traffic.

  • Reducing trash pick-up times from twice a week to twice a month.

  • Completing all event loading and unloading by 7:30 p.m.

  • Conducting an evaluation of neighborhood parking in association with neighborhood residents and other affected groups, to be completed by July 3.