Garfield Aquarium restoration would feature apartments, co-working hub

Credit: Michelle Bruch

A Kingfield couple (he’s an architect, she coaches entrepreneurs) plans to buy a former NSP substation at 33rd & Garfield known as the “Garfield Aquarium” and convert it into four residences and a co-working hub.

In a second phase of the project, they would use the open space on the lot to build six additional apartments surrounding a garden between the buildings.* New structures along the alley and fronting Garfield would match the height of the aquarium, and a bungalow on the north side of the lot would stand one-two stories.

They’re also considering public art, fruit trees along the south wall, a historic designation for the building, and beehives or a greenhouse on the roof.

“We’re making a place the community can continue to connect,” said Aaron Parker, who has a purchase agreement to buy the building.

In the co-working area, Parker envisions serving Bull Run coffee, providing business development trainings, and offering video or recording technology that people may not have at home.

“Our preference, because of our community orientation, is really to provide that local service to people who home office in the area,” Parker said. “It’s not a front door to somebody’s house, and it makes sense to use it that way. … I don’t think it’s as good for the neighborhood to have it just be residential.”

“It’s not about the building, it’s about the neighborhood,” said Karen Parker.

Aaron Parker’s firm has done eight projects for the American Swedish Institute, and his architectural work includes the Humboldt Greenway residences in North Minneapolis, higher-ed buildings like the Drake University Law Library, and government buildings like the U.S. Embassy in Chile. He also worked as co-leader of teams that prepared small area plans for Uptown and Lake Street/Midtown Greenway. The Garfield Aquarium would be his first project as developer.

In order to build the project as currently envisioned, the new owners would need the city to rezone the site from R2B to OR1, which is a “neighborhood office residence district.”

The project would include parking for five vehicles, with parking under the new development.* Aaron noted that the site is near bike paths and bus routes. He said people are increasingly foregoing cars to rely on biking and mass transit, and some millennials don’t want to spend the money to own a car.

In a March 3 meeting designed to solicit feedback from the neighborhood, some residents raised concerns about parking. Next-door neighbor Lisa Lewis said that in the “here and now,” most people do own cars and need a place to put them. Some said parking is already a problem, and they are nervous about adding new residents with only five spaces allocated for them.

Some residents also expressed concern about the zoning change, which would be permanent even if the development falls through.

Other residents said they were happy the building would be preserved.

Linda Alton works as a facilitator and strategic planner, and said she hops between several public workspaces.

“I think you’re on the edge of something terrific,” she said.

Residents were encouraged to submit feedback on the project to Mark Hinds, executive director of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association, at [email protected]

The Lyndale Neighborhood Association looked at the building when it came up for sale, but couldn’t afford to take it on.

“We would love to, but we didn’t want to spend two years raising half a million dollars,” said Hinds.

The building is already well-known to the neighborhood. In 1996, neighbors hid the former NSP generator behind paintings of fish, and called it the “aquarium.”

According to a Lyndale Neighborhood News story by Jennifer Arnold: The building caught the attention of Steve Lick when he moved in nearby. It reminded him of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and he imagined covering the boarded windows with fish. With the help of the Lyndale neighborhood group, Lick and artist Leisa Luis created a community “paint by number” project (telling kids to paint magenta on every space numbered “4,” for example). They took design ideas from kids, who created the smaller imaginative fish and suggested cultural elements like the eel with a Native American beaded pattern.

An annual “Fish Fest” at the aquarium each summer celebrates the public art. Last year, there were fish tacos from Cafe Ena and live music by Tom Hunter’s blues band. 

Photos of interior and Westinghouse induction voltage regulator by Henrik Nordstrom


*This story has been changed to correct the unit count and parking configuration.