mpls: Pillsbury Mill Towers Shot Down

The HPC rejected plans for new condo towers along the Main Street riverfront on Tuesday, the Strib reports:

After the marathon seven-hour meeting, Kit Richardson of developer Schafer Richardson said he was unsure of their next move. "I honestly don't know," Richardson said.

And David Frank, project manager for the developer, said they might "go back to the drawing board" or to the City Council to appeal the decision. "We knew that the staff had recommendations for this, but you always hope for the best," Frank said.

Chad Larsen, a member of the Preservation Commission, said it was the longest meeting of which he had been a part. "This [issue] deserves a lot of consideration," he said. "It's one of those things ... just because it's late, you can't skim right over it."

Nearly seven hours into the hearing, the commission rejected the developer's desire to build a 15-story building near the historic mill complex, and in quick succession rejected similar plans for buildings of 27, 24 and 20 stories.

Frankly, I'm surprised. It goes without saying that this is prime real estate. But the proposals seemed to me to fit in quite nicely with their surroundings, and they had gotten the prior approval of two neighborhood groups affected by the buildings.

But the HPC felt that new, taller condos would affect the landmark Pillsbury 'A' Mill, which is right next door. Here are some quotes from opponents:

senior planner Amy Lucas noted that the size of the new buildings "drastically alters the historic relationship between the historic buildings by diminishing the scale of the neighboring National Historic Landmark, Pillsbury A Mill Complex". . . Scott D. McGinnis, a professional historian since 1986, said the proposed buildings would "completely overpower" the integrity of the complex. "It detracts from those buildings being the centerpiece," he said . . . Michael Norton, an attorney for Bluff Street Development, which owns some nearby buildings that use solar-power water heaters, said the new buildings would "dwarf" his and interrupt their access to the sun. "We believe that this project is the wrong project for this area," Norton said. "It would be a disaster."

Oh, whoop-de-doo. These people are way out of touch. I'm all for historic presevation, don't get me wrong. Preserving old buildings is the kind of thing that Minneapolis has never done correctly (except for the Primo brewery), and there is a lot of need for community voices defending old structures.

But the Pillsbury 'A' Mill hasn't been the largest mill in the world since the 19th century. Flour is made in Buffalo NY and probably China, folks, and there's no reason why the old mill has to be the central focal point of the city forever.

Hello? Look across the river? That giant mill was turned into a museum and surrounded by theaters, condos, and exciting new buildings (after it was burned down b/c it was abandoned). Redeveloping the riverfront transformed really empty parking lots into useful space, and is a big part of making the downtown liveable again. Saying that new buildings on the East Bank would "diminsh" the 'A' Mill is like saying that no building should be taller than the Foshay Tower because Wilbur Foshay jumped from the top floor when the stock market crashed.

For once the neighborhood groups have hit the nail on the head:

The [neighborhood supporters] note that they have no enthusiasm for high-rises on the river and that the Marcy-Holmes Master Plan states that no building should be higher than the red tile elevator on the A Mill, "but taller buildings are acceptable if they help achieve the neighborhood goals."

The group's goals -- met by the developer -- included saving the mill, extending the grid so nearby streets and avenues connect to the riverfront and enlivening the sidewalk for pedestrians, and adding retail shops. The group also wanted varied heights, with shorter towers closer to the mill complex, and distinct gaps.

"What we got is towers spaced so we can still see between them," said Arvonne Fraser, a Marcy-Holmes resident and the wife of former Mayor Don Fraser. "We'll have people right on the riverfront instead of empty mills and paved-over empty lots."

I'm disappointed in the HPC, and I hope that the city council overrides them in this case.


Andrew said...

Wishful thinking at best, but the city has no guts when it comes to overriding the decision of the council and allowing denser/taller developments that the city and area would benefit from.

The Truth Hurts said...

Can Mpls EVER get preservation right? Geez...

So does this mean those mysterious lights will no longer be on in the Pillsbury building. I've been wondering about those for a couple years now.