Plans for tall Uptown apartment tower scaled back slightly

A planned 14-story apartment would be the tallest building in Uptown. Planning commissioners said they appreciate the proposal but have concerns about the building’s massing along Lake Street. Submitted image

Plans for a towering apartment building in the heart of Uptown have been scaled back slightly, though it would still be the tallest structure in the neighborhood. 

The developer, St. Louis-based LOCAL Ventures, now hopes to build a 14-story, 402-unit apartment with 258 indoor parking spaces and 8,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space on a vacant site just west of the mall formerly known as Calhoun Square. When the project was first pitched to neighbors in July, it was floated at 15 stories, 452 units, 307 parking spaces and 11,400 square feet of retail. 

About 80 of the building’s units would be affordable to people making under 50% of the area median income, which translates to monthly rents around $1,250.

The height of the 160-foot J-shaped building has been lowered by just 2 feet, and the biggest change in design affects the building’s south wing, which faces a row of single-family homes along Fremont Avenue. The top 10 stories of that wing have been lopped off to improve “stepping toward the neighborhood,” according to LOCAL. 

In response to neighbors’ feedback, developer LOCAL Ventures lopped off 10 stories from the building’s south wing, creating a stepped design toward the homes along Girard Avenue that is difficult to see in this rendering. Submitted image

The Minneapolis Planning Commission gave feedback on the proposed project during a Sept. 24 committee meeting. 

Commissioners said they were enthusiastic about the possibility of a high-density project near Lake & Hennepin — a location close to grocery stores, the Greenway and multiple transit options. But they expressed concerns about the building’s massing feeling “a little overwhelming in context” and voiced a desire to “break up the facade on Lake Street.” 

An analysis conducted by LOCAL shows that while the building would cast shadows all the way across Lake Street nearly year round, few shadows would be cast into the residential neighborhood south of the building.  

Planning Commissioner Sam Rockwell suggested a two-tower design could make the building less imposing for pedestrians in the Uptown commercial district. 

“I think Lake Street needs to feel walkable, and it’s not just about the retail frontage on your building,” he told the developers. “It’s also about being able to get some sunlight to the other side of the street.”

Commissioners also requested more affordable units, the elimination of a protruding cornice, the addition of public artworks and the installation of a rooftop rain garden or solar panel array. 

map of proposed 452-unit apartment building

The building’s parking garage would be accessed via Girard Avenue, and commissioners sought more details about how that would affect the pedestrian experience. City staff are concerned that over 75 feet of the street frontage would be dedicated to parking and loading. Commissioner Alissa Luepke-Pier, however, said she’s not too bothered because that stretch of Girard, now used to access parking for the shopping mall, already feels like a “service alley.” 

Current plans for the apartment building call for 145 studios, 108 one-bedrooms, 127 two-bedrooms and 22 four-bedrooms. There is one level of underground parking and three levels of above-ground parking, which are mostly concealed from exterior view by wraparound units.

The building would require a conditional-use permit for height, since the Minneapolis 2040 plan calls for developments of between two and 10 stories on the site. It would also require a variance to increase the floor area ratio from 4.05 to 7.21. 

LOCAL Ventures plans to conduct a traffic study and an environmental review. The company hopes to start construction next spring and open the building to tenants in 2023.