Theatre Garage project triggers neighborhood debate

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It was standing room only at the Jefferson Elementary library on Feb. 12 as people packed in to discuss a potential six-story development on the southwest corner of Lyndale & Franklin.

The Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) heard from residents who would live in the shadow of the building, a couple of project supporters, anxious business owners on the block, and people who commute through the busy area.

Master Principal Don Gerberding said he could not build within the confines of the current zoning on the site.

“We think it’s appropriate to have a six-story building anchor that corner,” he said. “The city wants density, and we need density in our city. We need the tax base. … Economically, it doesn’t work unless we have six stories on the corner.”

“Economically for you, or for the neighborhood?” replied Deanna Hagg, who said the parking garage would become her front yard.

The preliminary proposal by Master in partnership with the existing property owners and Newport Partners — a developer that owns a Minnesota solar panel manufacturer — includes 85 market-rate units and a 150-seat theater for Minneapolis Theatre Garage. Five retail bays would front Lyndale, and a restaurant would front Franklin. An enclosed parking garage with more than 200 stalls would include 90 spots available to the public.

The residential and commercial portion of the building would be six stories. The parking garage would be five stories, topped by a rooftop park and solar panel array. Master Project Coordinator Elizabeth Liebhard said a deep grade change on the site means the height would appear less than 20 feet taller than buildings to the west.

Gerberding said he recently looked at the possibility of partial underground parking, but geotechnical soil reports determined the soil is “lousy” and the structure can’t use standard footings — instead, they’ll have to use piers that go down to the bedrock, he said.

Nearby resident Terri Burks said the developer should stick to the neighborhood’s existing planning guidelines.

“I think you’ll find the neighborhood is willing to live with that, because we do want improvement in our community,” she said.

Another meeting attendee said she was nervous about the potential zoning change, because such changes tend to make future development skew higher and higher.

Council Member Lisa Bender (10th Ward) said the corner is identified as a site for mixed-use, high-density development of a medium scale.

“Almost all development requires rezoning,” she said. “I agree with you, that’s problematic.”

She said many of the requested variances in this case are related to the “district parking” structure, and it poses a question for the community: Do we want to add 100 extra spaces here?

For some in attendance, the answer was no.

Drivers would pay to park in the ramp, and that worried some residents who said many would park on residential streets to skip the fees.

“Right now I don’t have a parking problem,” said Barry Flamm, owner of Urban Tails Pet Supply at 2106 Lyndale Ave. S. “It’s not a parking problem, it’s a traffic problem. … The traffic flow isn’t going to get better because a parking garage is there.”

Some residents said area traffic can back up for blocks, and one man noted The Wedge Co-op across the street is using a police officer to help regulate weekend traffic.

Attendee Tom Olson looked to enhanced public transit as the answer, promoting a 50-cent sales tax increase to fund transit improvements.

“You can’t kill the corridor, you have to mitigate it with transit,” he said.

Nearby resident Paul Rucker said existing transit can’t adequately handle commutes to the suburbs.

“I bike whenever I can, but I’m not going to bike to Plymouth,” he said.

The “district parking” concept takes its cue from parking ramps in the 50th & France area, Gerberding said, as well as the city-owned surface lot behind the Jungle Theater at Lake & Lyndale. Another Master project adjacent to the city lot houses retailers like the Lyndale Tap House and Awaken Pilates.

“We could not put those businesses in that building had not the district parking situation been available,” Gerberding said.

At a Stevens Square Community Organization (SSCO) meeting earlier this month, Master representatives said they envision a glassy, lighted entryway.

“We want to be a destination place,” Gerberding said. “Kind of that New York doorman, come-to-the-theater feel.”

The developer’s goal is to operate a “net zero” building by conserving energy and relying on renewable sources.

Renderings by Collage Architects show Rudolphs Bar-B-Que as the restaurant on the corner. Rudolphs owners did not return a call for comment.

Primarily one- and two-bedroom units would range from about 600-1,100 square feet.

“These are not luxury apartments, but quality apartments,” said Gerberding, describing the price point at $1.80-$1.90 per square foot. “We’re targeting people who live in the neighborhood and work in the neighborhood.”

A rooftop park would host Theatre Garage puppet shows and outdoor performances. The park would be open to the public as an “urban retreat or getaway” until 7 p.m., and it would be available for private events. The roof might include a bar area and seating for the restaurant. A canopy of solar panels would form a U shape above the park.

“It’s a little bit of a paradigm shift,” Gerberding said. “Most parks are at street level.” Given the rarity of open space in the city, “we have to start looking at alternative ways” to build park space, he said.

The SSCO Neighborhood Development Committee voted to support the project on Feb. 4 with little discussion.

Another supporter at the LHENA meeting said he appreciated the plan for market-rate units, rather than luxury.

“I really am supportive of the development,” said Michael Olson. “But I think the building is kind of ugly.”

The project displaces retailers including Steeple People Thrift Store and One 21 barbershop, who are looking for new storefronts in the neighborhood.

Staff at the nearby Lyndale Avenue dry cleaner and David Petersen Gallery are also part of the site, and they were unaware of project plans in late January.

“I hope I get a unit,” joked David Petersen.

David Dellanave, owner of The Movement Minneapolis at 2100-B Lyndale Ave. S., attended the LHENA meeting and asked the developer if he was aware the new building would block the front door to his business.

In response, Gerberding said the property owner is working with an architect to provide an alternate entrance. He said the owner is handling communication with its tenants independently.

Steeple People initially needed to be out by May 31, but that deadline has been extended. Founded in 1979, the store is a nonprofit outreach ministry of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church. The store accepts donations, sells them, and uses the proceeds to award grants to nonprofits.

Gail Onan, executive director for store transition, said they’re looking for a space the same size or smaller that’s affordable and located near transit lines.
“A lot of our shoppers are walkers, and being in the neighborhood would be very advantageous,” she said.

Ella Ritzman, the owner of E’s Emporiumat 3911 Minnehaha Ave., said she’s been shopping at Steeple People for 30 years and hates to see it leave. She said the city should preserve its existing buildings, and she worries that new development will hurt the area’s affordability.

“Whenever I’m [at Steeple People], I never know what I’m going to run into,” she said. “That’s why I live in the city. … I don’t want a shiny new city like the mayor wants. I don’t understand the idea that you have to put 100,000 more people in the city.”

The proposal needs city approval for several aspects of the project. The site must be rezoned from C1 to C2. It needs a conditional use permit for the parking facility. It needs a permit to increase the maximum allowable height from 56 feet to 75.4 feet. The project also needs variances for the maximum allowed floor area ratio, and the reduction of rear yard and south interior side yard setbacks.

Master staff said they would like to start construction as soon as possible, perhaps this summer.

After the LHENA meeting, Gerberding said the core of the neighborhood issues may come down to the parking concept.

“Does the neighborhood and does the city support district parking?” asked Gerberding. “If it doesn’t, I’ve got one variance.”

Flamm, the pet shop owner, said he’d like to keep an optimistic outlook.

“Hopefully what’s best for everybody is going to happen,” he said.