Neighbors vet nine-story Lake & Emerson hotel proposal

Credit: The nine-story Moxy Hotel at Lake & Emerson is designed to have a warehouse look with a “modern twist.” Rendering by Collage Architects

Graves Hospitality is partnering with Marriott to propose a nine-story, 145-room Moxy hotel at the southeast corner of Lake & Emerson. The brick hotel would replace the two-story building formerly home to Tadka Indian Bistro. A restaurant of about 40 seats would stand on the main floor.

The developer unveiled the design to a packed neighborhood meeting of the Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG) Nov. 17, where residents objected to the hotel’s height and subsequent parking pressure.

The hotel at 1121 W. Lake St. and 3005 Emerson Ave. S. would stand 84 feet. (The MoZaic, by comparison, stands 10 stories or 112 feet at Lagoon & Girard.)

The hotel would provide 24-hour valet parking at a charge to guests. Cars may be routed down Emerson to enter valet service behind the hotel, exiting to Lake thru the alley.

Along Lake Street, a two-story glass volume would step back at an angle to add architectural interest, according to the application. The sidewalk would be expanded along Lake Street.

“We love this location, we love being on Lake Street,” said Ben Graves. 

Some residents said they wished the hotel was located closer to Hennepin.

“Nine stories is going to tower over everything around here,” said resident Jamie Ronnei.

“This is trying to fit into too small a space,” said resident Ginny Buran. “I think it’s a very dangerous precedent for the neighborhood.”

Some residents asked if the developer would be willing to go lower than nine stories.

“The business model works with this scale,” Jim Graves replied.

The project architect said the height and size is appropriate, as it stands on the Lake Street corridor. 

Resident Aaron Rubenstein said a nine-story project does not comply with the Uptown Small Area Plan, which is the long-term development vision created by neighbors and adopted by the city. City officials take the plan into consideration while considering new development proposals.

Rubenstein said a hotel should stand in the plan’s “Activity Center” area focused at Hennepin & Lake, and he said 84-foot heights are recommended at the interior of blocks, not at the street edge.

“We put in blood, sweat and tears into the small area plan,” Ronnei said. “If it was four stories, I wouldn’t be at this meeting. … We really worked hard on this small area plan so we wouldn’t have to come to these meetings and fight it out every year.”

“This is just an ad hoc approach to zoning that I feel could open up a whole Pandora’s box,” said Kay Graham. “It opens up the wild west.”

The neighborhood arguments are similar to those made recently in Linden Hills, where an adopted small area plan hasn’t prevented neighborhood fights over new development at 43rd & Upton.

Residents who live nearby said they already lack parking — permit parking applies to the Emerson and Fremont blocks south of Lake Street.

In response, the Graves representatives said they believe few people would self-park, and said the parking impact would be less than a large restaurant. They expect less than 30 percent of guests to use hotel parking.

In response to questions about noise, the developer said all gathering spaces would face Lake Street, and mechanical systems would be installed on the rooftop. The project does not include rooftop terraces.

Shadowing would not impact neighbors to the south at all, Jim said.

Ben Graves said hotel room rates of about $219 would fluctuate with demand.

The hotel is a new brand called Moxy, and Graves Hospitality is working with Marriott to build Moxy hotels at Washington & Chicago and in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

The New York Times called the brand “Marriott for Millennials.” Moxy’s website touts 42-inch TVs and full-service bars, citing the amenities of a boutique hotel at an affordable price — “just like home, but with a bartender.”

“The Uptown area does not have a hotel, and the small area plan identified that as a need,” said Pete Keely of Collage Architects. “We see a strong market for that.”

Graves Hospitality partnered in 2006 to build a hotel as part of the MoZaic project, but plans changed as the economy turned.

“Ever since we’ve been looking for a site,” said Ben. 

“We’re not here to flip and move down the road,” said Jim. “We want to build something very high-quality.”

At the November meeting, residents unanimously passed a motion to make it clear CARAG hasn’t taken a position on the project. They also voted to highlight relevant citations in the small area plan.

In order for the project to move forward, the city must rezone the site from C2 to C3A to allow construction of a hotel with more than 20 rooms. Other applications include a conditional use permit to allow a height up to 84 feet, more than the four stories (56 feet) allowed by right. A sideyard variance would allow the east side of the building to stand flush at the alley, instead of the required 15 feet. The project would need a floor area ratio variance to allow 4.74, up from the allowed 2.7. The city would typically require 48 parking stalls on the site, and the developer is proposing eight stalls along with valet parking.