Planning Commission approves new Mozaic plans

The Minneapolis Planning Commission in late April approved revised plans for Mozaic, a large mixed-use development planned for Lagoon and Emerson avenues.

The $75 million project, spearheaded by local development firm The Ackerberg Group, has changed substantially since initial concepts were dreamt up in November 2004. Past iterations have included condos, a new Lagoon Theatre, a hotel and various arrangements of office, commercial and public plaza space.

As approved in April, Mozaic plans call for 158 rental units, 66,000 square feet of office space, 37,000 square feet of commercial, retail and restaurant space and 695 parking spaces.

The new development will consist of two buildings. An 11-story structure to the west of the site will incorporate ground-level commercial space, six open-air parking levels and three levels of office space. On the east side, a nine-story apartment building will have ground level commercial and restaurant space.

A 13,000-square-foot plaza is planned between the buildings and the development will connect to and incorporate a bridge over the Midtown Greenway.

“It’s different as far as some of the architecture, it’s different as far as the organization of the buildings and the uses within the site, but it’s still the same types of uses that were originally envisioned on the property,” said The Ackerberg Group owner Stuart Ackerberg.

Mozaic has been controversial since it was originally proposed, largely because of height, density and other concerns. The most recent rendition drew criticism from some area residents who argued the project’s quality has declined and it didn’t deserve entitlements for building placement, setbacks, height and other conditions it was granted.

“A high-rise parking ramp, whether open air or enclosed, is not the kind of project that merits the requested zoning exceptions and approvals,” wrote Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG) Zoning Committee Chairman Aaron Rubenstein in a letter to the Planning Commission. “It is not a high quality land use or a project that ought to be the tallest building in, and a landmark icon for, Uptown.”

The Mozaic site is just to the north of the CARAG neighborhood.

Planning Commissioner Lara Norkus-Crampton voiced similar concerns about the project at a committee meeting prior to its approval. She was absent from the meeting at which Mozaic was approved, but said the development and the recently revised plans for nearby Calhoun Square — both projects with changes resulting from the housing market decline — bring an important issue to the limelight.

“If you’re going to make exceptions to zoning code and the comprehensive plan, it should be for a very good reason,” she said. “The question is, should the standards that this city has rise and fall with the market? That’s a question we should be answering.”

Planning Commission President David Motzenbecker, who, along with Commissioner Lauren Huynh, did not participate in the discussion or voting on Mozaic because of involvement in other Ackerberg projects, said the answer to Norkus-Crampton’s question is simple.

“That is something we distinctly do not weigh,” he said. “In many of the land-use application decisions, it is specifically stated that we cannot consider economics.”

Motzenbecker said the five commissioners that discussed and approved the project did so with little debate, other than a discussion about whether the parking ramp’s green or “living wall” facing the plaza and decorative translucent and colored glass panels screened it well enough. The commission decided developers should work closely with city staff to make sure the screening was appropriate.

Motzenbecker said he personally thinks Mozaic incorporates many elements Uptown stakeholders have asked for, such as a large public gathering space.

“We really pushed them to do something beautiful and I think ultimately it will be a nice project,” he said.

Ackerberg said as any developer, he had to react to the market and make changes accordingly.

“In a normal, traditional investment, the materials that are utilized and the organization of buildings has to be economically feasible,” he said.

But he said the most recent version of Mozaic is still high quality and more innovative than ever. The parking ramp, he said, would set a new standard for how those structures are built.

“People will know there’s a parking structure there and I don’t think that’s bad,” he said. “But people are going to view this parking structure differently than you’ll view any other parking structure that I’m aware of in our community.”

Mozaic’s boundaries are the Midtown Greenway to the north, Lagoon Avenue to the south, Fremont Avenue to the east and Hennepin Avenue to the west. The project won’t have any frontage on Hennepin or Lagoon because of existing buildings housing businesses such as The Drink, Bar Abeline, Zeno and William’s Uptown Pub and Peanut Bar.

No demolition of existing buildings is planned; the development will replace what is now a large parking lot.

“We are, even more so than the previous iterations, just filling in the hole of the doughnut,” Ackerberg said.

On the southwest section of the doughnut, Zeno manager Blake Johnson is a bit concerned about Mozaic adding to the gentrification of Uptown, where he already can’t afford to live, but he hopes the new development brings in more customers.

Increasing daytime traffic in Uptown has been a goal of the project from the start and it’s something other community members are also hoping to see.

“If it brings more people to work and live in the Wedge, I’m all for it,” said outgoing Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) board president Twyla Staiger Dixon.

LHENA gave its nod of approval to the most recent version of Mozaic, which is located along the neighborhood’s south and west borders. Dixon said the group has generally been in favor of The Ackerberg Group’s projects because of their quality and the firm’s willingness to work with residents.

“The neighborhood, I think, feels better about the project in some respects than the other ones because the scale is more manageable,” she said.

Ackerberg said construction is scheduled to begin around Sept. 1 and should take 12–15 months. Throughout all the revisions, he said he’s only briefly considered holding off on developing the site, which makes a nice profit as a parking lot.

“It’s an important site to be improved,” he said. “For Uptown to really get to the next level, it needs more than a two-plus acre parking lot behind those buildings. And so, the more time we’ve spent working on the site, the more turned on we’ve gotten with creating this project.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.