Retooled Lagoon Project gains Planning Commission approval

Condo building now 10 stories, not 13

The revamped development plan for a condo/office/entertainment complex behind the Lagoon Theater got a thumbs-up from the Minneapolis Planning Commission Oct. 31. The project now awaits a City Council vote.

The so-called &#8220Lagoon Project” became a neighborhood flashpoint after a design including a 13-story condo structure was unveiled this spring. The City Council voted July 1 to restrict the condo building to 10 stories; developers have been working with architects to change the design.

The retooled plan reduced the office space, opened up the public plaza and added condos, but it reduced the height of the main structure from 13 to 10 stories. Townhomes were also been added to Fremont Avenue South.

&#8220We're obviously very pleased with the outcome,” said Clark Gassen, a project co-developer.

He said that if there are no appeals to the Commission's decision, he anticipates Council approval.

The new plan

The ambitious project's developers are Gassen, founder of Financial Freedom Realty - known in Southwest for a plethora of condo conversions - and Stuart Ackerberg, the continuation of a familial Uptown legacy, the Ackerberg Group.

The new plans for the 1320 Lagoon Ave. site have three main buildings, instead of two. A 10-story condo building is planned for the parcel's west side, abutting the backside of the Old Walker Library, 2901 Hennepin Ave. S. There would also be an eight-story condo building near the greenway, a six-story office building and a renovated Lagoon Theater. The number of condo housing units has increased from 112 to 166.

In addition, three to five &#8220walk-up” townhomes will also be added to the 2900 block of Fremont Avenue. Gassen had said the townhomes were added because of neighborhood and city concern about a lack of pedestrian activity on Fremont.

Prices for the housing will be from $200,000 to over $1 million.

The project also added more public access points, including those already planned from the Midtown Greenway.

Greenway amenities include a pedestrian bridge and connection to the trench, but plans are still pending negotiations with Hennepin County (which owns the greenway) and Metro Transit (which runs buses along the project's greenway border to the Uptown Transit hub).

Developers pushed hard for project approval this summer because the Colle McVoy ad agency was a potential major office tenant. The company passed when the project was delayed. Gassen said current office tenant plans include a 40,000-square-foot space for office tenants, designed for small business owners.

Resident concern

The previous plans stirred up many residents, who complained to the city about the project's height. The area is zoned for four-story buildings unless there is further city review. The Hill East (Wedge) Neighborhood Association (LHENA), voted to support the updated version of the project.

East Calhoun resident Lara Norkus Crampton spoke against the project before at the Oct. 31 Planning Commission meeting. She had also appealed the Planning Commission's earlier approval of the 13-story building. If a project's approval is appealed, the City Council makes the final determination.

Norkus Crampton said she's worried about the large project setting a precedent in the neighborhood.

She referenced the large, newly proposed Greco development, a proposal for buildings up to 10 stories at 2900 and 2910 Lyndale Ave. S. and 2901 Aldrich Ave. S. and possible other nearby Lyn-Lake parcels.

Norkus Crampton said the project-by-project way of redeveloping &#8220is a very stupid way of doing things in all honesty. Now the burden's going to be on the city to say [to developers], &#8220why not?”

Norkus Crampton said the city should listen to resident opinions about a master plan for area redevelopment. Many elected officials, new and former, have talked about a master plan, but nothing has been made public so far.

Gassen agreed, to a degree. &#8220It would be nice for a developer to know exactly what would be allowed on a particular site,” he said, adding that he and his partners rather work with neighborhood groups on project design, instead of fighting with them. However, he said developers worked on this project for nearly a year and tried to respond to neighborhood concerns.

Developers are preparing for an April 2006 construction start and have begun to take leasing reservations. Gassen said 90 units are reserved so far.

For more information about the project, he suggested visiting the leasing office located on the northeast corner of West Lake Street & Hennepin Avenue South.