Preserve Minneapolis advocates for historic preservation in a variety of ways:
- Events: Our events raise awareness about historic preservation issues and projects.Be sure to check out our Events page on this site for a list of our public functions, dates and times.
- HPC: We have have participated with the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission as a consulting party in preservation discussions, including the federal Section 106 process.
- Public statements: On occasion, issue statements on specific preservation matters, posted below.
This page will continue to be updated update to inform our members and the public of new preservation challenges and concerns, along with current information on success stories and discussions about the wealth of historic properties intact in our wonderful city.
Preserve Minneapolis statement regarding fourplexes
Different neighborhoods and different parts of the city have unique needs and unique profiles that make them distinctive. When considering fourplexes as a tool for 21st century housing plans, we hope that analysis and implementation will be done in ways that fit well into the built environment and is sensitive to the historic character of each neighborhood. As Council President Bender stated on MPR recently, this effort could bring Minneapolis back to its roots as a city with denser population patterns than we’ve seen in recent decades. That nod to past city development patterns is in itself a good place to start.
Introduction of new construction into designated historic landmark districts or simply areas of historic character can be done well when approached thoughtfully and with careful planning. We encourage city planners to work with the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and city staff that supports the HPC to find proactive ways to manage this effort. We are confident that there are ways to find good locations and good designs that meet the city’s housing needs while also enhancing its current built environment.
For example, fourplex units may be most compatible in areas where there are already mixed-uses, such as at commercial corners or along commercial corridors, or dense populations (such as Uptown or the Northeast Riverfront District). Additionally, thought should be given to maintaining the character of those neighborhoods that historically (and continue to be) filled largely with single-family homes. These city blocks were developed as a “working man’s” retreat into the “suburbs” away from the bustling and dense downtown. And yet, there are many mini-commercial corners in those neighborhoods that date from the streetcar era, and those are often surrounded nearby with duplexes. We are also eager to explore creative ways to increase density without sacrificing the look and feel of a streetscape, such as “density shifts” that take fuller advantage of the back of lots to achieve the goals of all perspectives.
There is plenty of space to work from all around the city to increase affordability and access, but it is important that we respect the character, density, and space within all neighborhoods as they collectively provide a diversity of experience.
Preserve Minneapolis statement regarding proposed Alatus development at 200 Central Avenue
Preservationists and east Minneapolis neighborhoods recently breathed a sigh of relief when Schafer Richardson revised its plans for a development at the Nye’s site, within the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. At 30 stories tall, the proposed building did not reflect the character of the neighborhood and ignored historic district guidelines, and Preserve Minneapolis and other concerned citizens pointed this out. In response to pressure and feedback, Schafer Richardson updated their plans with a proposal more in keeping with the guidelines, the context, and the public’s vision for the neighborhood. It was a moment worth celebrating, an important reminder that preservation and development can and should work together in the evolution of the city.
But our celebration is short-lived, as another proposed development, by the Alatus Company, again threatens the character of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. This building, planned for the current Washburn-McReavy Funeral Home site (historically the St. Anthony Commercial Club building), is 40 stories tall, 10 stories higher than Shafer Richardson’s original plans for the Nye’s site. It towers over surrounding blocks and the adjacent former Pillsbury Library, an important cultural heritage site within the city and historic district.
We asked ourselves, “How is it this developer did not learn from the Nye’s proposal?”
The proposed plan disregards the Historic District guidelines
It’s possible that Alatus didn’t realize that the site is within the Saint Anthony Falls Historic District, which has been both locally designated and listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971.This specific portion of the district historically had an eclectic mix of buildings ranging in height from one-and-a-half to three stories. In keeping with this precedent, the district guidelines state that “mid-rise, low-rise, and very-low rise building heights are most appropriate,” and building heights “should not exceed eight stories.” Furthermore, the guidelines reiterate that new buildings should respect the characteristics of the area. This includes ensuring that the historic grain elevators retain visual prominence in massing and scale for the district. At 40 stories, Alatus’s proposed building is clearly outside these parameters.
The visual impact is significant and not fully shown in the renderings
In addition, the proposed building does not meet the new-building guidelines for Mass, Scale, and Height. The guidelines stipulate that a proposed building should be considered “as seen from key public viewpoints inside and outside of the historic district,” yet none of the published renderings show these various viewpoints, meaning the public hasn’t seen its full visual impact. Will the building be visible from Main Street, the West Bank, or the University? Certainly it will. It’s undeniable that a 40-story building would dramatically change the skyline of the district, once dominated by mid-rise industrial buildings and mills.
What matters is the surrounding historic precedent
Some may argue that precedent has been set for this part of the district, in which other non-historic high-rise buildings are directly adjacent, including a 9-story parking garage and a 12-story apartment/condo complex. While this is accurate, it is irrelevant, just as it irrelevant for the Nye’s proposal.
As stated in the district guidelines, “in general, a new building should fit within the range of structures seen historically in the specific character area” [emphasis added]. The guidelines, developed in 2012, exist not to freeze individual sites in time but with an eye toward the broader well-being of the area. They are rightly flexible and allow for the evolution of the built environment within certain parameters, which this proposed building vastly exceeds.
Listening to the neighborhood
Beyond the impact to the district’s character, the proposed Alatus development does not take into account the surrounding residents’ plans and goals for the future of the neighborhood. The proposed high-rise will dramatically change the density of the neighborhood, which brings a host of questions over safety, traffic, and future growth plans, as is noted by the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood request for opposition.
All development in Minneapolis should not only consider city design guidelines but also be sensitive, aware, and respectful of how the neighborhood would like to grow, change, and develop. This important element of community planning and development is often overlooked, forgotten, or ignored, which only results in frustration and tension.
We urge Alatus, every future developer in this area, and others within Minneapolis, to meet with neighborhood groups, citizens, and organizations and hear their visions and goals for the area, from historic character to density issues to safety concerns. These discussions should happen early in the process, as true due diligence in the design process rather than a token public-relations measure after the renderings have been publicized.
Preserve Minneapolis understands and appreciates the stated desire for more density within the city. But there are many ways to achieve this. These designs propose not just density but especially high density, of a size and design that is not close to fitting the existing guidelines for an area that is beloved specifically for its historic character.
We strongly urge the Minneapolis HPC to reject this proposal and developers to respect the historic guidelines and the context of their sites, rather than disregarding them.
Preserve Minneapolis statement regarding the future of the Nye’s site
When news broke in December that Nye’s Polonaise Room is planning to close later this year, it sent a jolt through the city, from polka fans to preservationists. Last week, we got another jolt as proposed plans for the site were released by developer Shafer Richardson.
Before we get to the proposed new building, we want to take a step back. The ongoing discussion has gotten complicated by the fact that there are really two separate yet overlapping discussions: (1) saving the business, and (2) determining the future of the buildings and the site.
The business is, of course, one of the city’s great institutions. Preserve Minneapolis believes that local heritage and character are not just about the built environment but the people and stories within. We love Nye’s for the vintage décor and architecture, but most of all for the employees, the stiff drinks, the polka bands, the crossroads-of-the-city vibe at the piano bar—the atmosphere that bridges many generations. So the first thing we’d encourage Nye’s fans to do is to show your support for the business. Go there, and not just on the always-popular weekends. Tell the owners why it would be such a loss for them to close. (Same goes for any other business that you believe is an important part of the community. Show your love with your patronage.)
It would be a tremendous loss for the East Hennepin area and the city as a whole if Nye’s closes. But, of course, that is the owners’ prerogative. And if that does happen, what’s next for the site?
Shafer Richardson’s proposal is for a thirty-story glass tower placed atop a podium base that incorporates portions of the existing Nye’s buildings.
While making token nods to historic preservation, the proposed building largely ignores both the letter and spirit of the Saint Anthony Falls Historic District Design Guidelines. It shows a cavalier disregard for long-standing rules, neighborhood character, and local heritage in the city’s oldest and arguably most historically significant neighborhood.
Nye’s is within the boundaries of the Saint Anthony Falls Historic District, which has been both locally designated and listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971. The Saint Anthony Falls Historic District Guidelines state:
10.58 The maximum building height should not exceed four stories.
a) Low-rise and very low-rise building heights are most appropriate …
Additional stories, up to ten, may be allowed if stepped back from the street wall in a way that does not detract from the historic development patterns [emphasis added].
At thirty stories, the building is clearly outside these parameters as well as the guidelines’ instruction to “retain the feeling created along Hennepin Avenue by the historic storefront buildings” such as those housing Kramarczuk’s, Ginger Hop, and Punch Pizza. And, beyond height, the point tower portion of the structure, with its glass curtain wall, also does not meet the guidelines’ instructions about using materials that fit the surrounding context.
It’s important to note that the district design guidelines were updated in 2012—they are not vestiges of a different era. They were carefully thought-out for the present-day riverfront as a whole, guided in part by a City staff memorandum that anticipated the evolution of the area and stated, “in order to create and sustain economically successful places, it has become critical to evaluate and carefully consider how entire environments function as a diverse, but unified cultural landscape.”
The guidelines exist not to freeze individual sites in time but with an eye toward the broader well-being of the area. They are rightly flexible and allow for the evolution of the built environment within certain parameters, which this proposed building vastly exceeds.
Shafer Richardson is not just asking for a minor exception to the guidelines but, essentially, a complete obliteration of them. They have pointed out that there other non-historic high-rise buildings nearby [e.g. Riverplace], including across the street, which is accurate but irrelevant. The guidelines state that “in general, a new building should fit within the range of structures seen historically in the specific character area” [emphasis added].
Arguing that the newer buildings like Riverplace are the appropriate precedent for future area development is not a good-faith interpretation of the guidelines, and turns a blind eye to, for example, Our Lady of Lourdes and the Hennepin Avenue business district discussed above. Even a cursory glance at the architect’s renderings shows just how this new tower would loom over its surroundings, including historically-significant Our Lady of Lourdes, as the church has noted in its own statement.
If noncompliant exceptions become the new rule, then the guidelines are meaningless.
Preserve Minneapolis understands and appreciates the stated desire for more density within the neighborhood and the city. But there are many ways to achieve this. These designs propose not just density but especially high density, of a size and design that is not even close to fitting the existing guidelines for its setting in an area that is beloved specifically for its historic character and its walkable, pedestrian-scale business district.
We strongly urge the Minneapolis HPC to reject this proposal.
 Memorandum from Brian Schaffer, Senior City Planner, to the Minneapolis HPC Re: St. Anthony Falls Historic District Design Guidelines. November 30, 2010. Available online: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@cped/documents/webcontent/convert_283119.pdf
 Winter & Co, page 104.
 As detailed on the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission website: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/hpc/landmarks/hpc_landmarks_st_anthony_falls
 Winter & Co et al, “Saint Anthony Falls Historic District Design Guidelines,” October 23, 2012, page 156. Available online: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@cped/documents/webcontent/convert_255677.pdf