City planners in Minneapolis have named a winner in the public competition to redevelop a downtown lot that had locals reevaluating the place of tall towers in the Twin Cities. After first rejecting an 80-story tower proposal that would have become the tallest building in Minnesota, the planners picked a 36-story tower and hotel complex proposed by United Properties, based in suburban Bloomington, Minn. United is owned by members of the family that also own the Minnesota Twins baseball franchise, who came under fire when the construction of the Twins stadium, Target Field, received substantial public financing. By contrast the new tower will be privately funded. The project, dubbed The Gateway, offers 300 units and a full-service Hilton hotel designed by Duluth-based LHB Corp. United is partnering with FRM Associates—the property owner of Marquette Plaza—to extend Cancer Survivors Park, a nearby green space, connecting it with a “year-round, street-level activity park” at The Gateway's base. That park is supposed to connect with a trolley car planned to open in 2018. Although the proposal awaits approval from city council, the city planners' recommendation virtually guarantees its success. Their selection of United's proposal reverses plans to present the remaining proposals to the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association on February 16—a move that has stirred some controversy among local skyline-watchers who favored the 80-story proposal in an online poll. The Gateway was the second tallest of the four proposals. Since 1991 the site at the northern end of downtown's Nicollet Mall has been a surface parking lot and bus stop. “This end of Nicollet Mall really starts to get very quiet as the day ends, and it needs a catalyst to bring new life and new vigor,” Bill Katter, executive vice president of investments for United Properties, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
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As a team of designers gear up for an overhaul of Nicollet Mall, dubbed Minneapolis’ main street, civic leaders there have cheered on the project in an op-ed in the StarTribune. Mayor Betsy Hodges and Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, write of the plan to revamp 12 blocks of pedestrian and public transit thoroughfare:
Never before has the need to leverage the mall as “the” public square providing space for a range of users been more apparent. This is our opportunity to elevate our offerings to ensure we can compete with other cities for tourism dollars, remain home to corporate headquarters, continue to grow the city, and attract new generations of families and employees while developing a space that will serve generations to come.Minneapolis lacks a visible tourist magnet, they write, like Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, Boston’s Newbury Street or Beale Street in Memphis. New York–based James Corner Field Operations won a design competition last year for a plan draw up with local firms Julie Snow Architects and Coen+Partners. As Hodges and Cramer write, Nicollet Mall was originally built in 1968, just as many Twin Cities residents were flocking to the suburbs. Now, with some of that momentum bending back to downtown, the op-ed authors and others are hoping to capture some of the economic impact of projects like New York’s High Line, which was also designed by James Corner Field Operations. What does this mean for the rest of downtown Minneapolis? Hodges and Cramer say the public-private partnership model that built the mall almost 50 years ago should be revived to ensure that the Twin Cities “take this opportunity to further enhance downtown.”