Hotel planned in Whittier

WHITTIER — A four-story hotel, retail and office development is planned to go up at 2528–2550 Nicollet Ave. within the next couple years.  

The project, referred to as the Ace Hotel/Icehouse development, would include 70 hotel rooms, 18,000 square feet of retail space, 8,000 square feet of office space and three levels of underground parking. It would incorporate 16,000 square feet of “green” space in the form of an interior courtyard and green roofs and facades.

Kandiyohi Development Partners, BKV Architects and Ace Hotels are teaming up on the project, which would retain the Azia Restaurant building and Icehouse Studio building on the site. The structures between them would be demolished and replaced with new construction.

Many area residents are in favor of the project, which the Whittier Alliance Community Issues Committee approved twice — once in July and again Aug. 13, when developers returned to the group with revised site plans. The committee also approved a setback variance reduction from 11 feet to zero feet on the west side of the project, a conditional use permit for a shopping center and alternative compliance to the minimum landscaping requirements of the Pedestrian Overlay District.  

The full Whittier Alliance board was scheduled to decide whether to approve the development plans Aug. 23.

Several businesses other than Azia occupy the planned development site including Tacos Morelos, Jasmine Deli, Saigon Express Deli, Sinbad Bakery and Deli, Saigon Travel, an attorney’s office and a jewelry store. Some residents at the Aug. 13 Whittier meeting were concerned about the loss of those, but developers said many were planning to stay after the development is built.

Luke Truong of Jasmine Deli said the business is planning to stay.

Amy Cao, an employee at Saigon Travel, said whether the agency stays depends on a number of factors such as rent.

Elizabeth Grzechoviak, executive director of Azia’s management company Phamous Group, said the restaurant would like to stay, but developers have not approached the restaurant about the feasibility of staying. If the restaurant has to close for even one week, the business would be in jeopardy, she said.  

At the Aug. 13 Whittier meeting, the committee tied a condition calling for no chain retail to its approval of the shopping center’s conditional use permit. The move was meant to avoid gentrification of the area.

Meeting attendees also brought up concerns about the three levels of underground parking, which would provide about 240 spaces.   

Jack Barron of Ace Hotels said the parking is needed primarily for an event center planned for the Icehouse
building.

Some nearby business owners were concerned about the digging required to make the ramp as well as the noise and vibrations from construction of the development. Mark Burgess of U+B Architecture and Design, a tenant of 2524 Nicollet Ave., said the tenants in the building would probably have to leave during construction because of safety and noise issues.   

Thien Nguyen and Christina Le, co-owners of the building, which is immediately adjacent to the planned construction zone, wanted to attach an addendum to the site plan approval that would require a negotiation between the developers and tenants and possibly compensation for the inconvenience. But the addendum wasn’t formally introduced before a motion to approve the site plan was made.

Steven Weise, who runs three recording studios in the same neighboring building, said construction noise would make recording difficult. Jim Horwath, who runs Maharishi Enlightenment Center next door to the planned construction site, said he would also have a hard time running his business while the development was being built. Meditation is the focus of Horwath’s business, which will soon change its name to Maharishi Invincibility Center.

“Our whole business is based on the need for quiet,” Jim said. “I love the [development] idea, but we may not be there to enjoy it.”  

Mark Michael Krause of Kandiyohi Development Partners said the development team wouldn’t be offering any compensation to nearby tenants.

“The thought is, you go through a certain amount of disruption, but you arrive at a better place on the other side,” Krause said.

Pending City Council approval, construction of the development is scheduled to begin in March of 2008. Construction is expected to take 16–18 months.