May 18, 2012 by Sarah M
// By Drew Kerr //
THE WEDGE — Developers eyeing Uptown’s Bennett Lumber site have presented city officials with plans for 373 new apartments and 15 new townhomes, suggesting the city’s rental market remains underserved.
Houston-based Greystar Real Estate Partners, one of the largest apartment operators in the country, brought plans for the 5.6-acre site, now an abandoned lumberyard, to the Planning Commission of the Whole for the first time in May.
Though developers described the proposal as preliminary, planning commission members expressed support for the designs presented at the meeting.
As the plans stand now, the company would construct a six-story, 220-unit “U-shaped” building on the lot between Emerson and Dupont avenues that would be stepped down to four stories on the north side.
A six-story, “L-shaped” building with 153 apartments would be built on the western lot, between Emerson and Fremont avenues. The north end of that lot would also include a group of 15 two- to three-story townhomes.
The developments would come in addition to a six-story building, on the east end of the Bennett property between Dupont and Colfax avenues, with 203 apartments. City officials approved that project in July 2011 and construction is expected to begin soon.
All of the buildings would be “silver” LEED certified, and there would be 1.2 enclosed parking stalls per unit.
The plans also call for a promenade linking the site to the MoZaic building on Lagoon Avenue and improvements such as new lighting and landscaping meant to create a connection to the Midtown Greenway, which sits just south of the site. Current designs include a public stairway and a terraced landscape.
Developers have been meeting with neighborhood and Midtown Greenway leaders to be sure the plans have broad support, and say they hope to return with more specific plans in the coming months.
David Reid, who is managing Greystar’s Midwest developments, said the initial concept has already received strong support.
While Midtown Greenway leaders have expressed concerns about shadowing when presented with other developments along the trail, they too have been receptive to the designs.
The Midtown Greenway will not take a formal position on the project until designs are complete, but the group’s executive director, Soren Jensen, said Greystar “continues to create designs that we believe are very Greenway friendly.”
Jensen and other Greenway leaders have suggested a few tweaks to the design thought to improve the buildings’ connection to the trail, however. They have also asked if developers could consider incorporating a retail element or restaurant into the project.
Reid declined to say exactly how much Greystar expected to invest in the development, but described the project as costing “several hundred million dollars.” The work would be privately financed.
Reid said the company is investing in the area because the city’s apartment market remains underserved, with nearby apartment buildings at or near capacity. The apartment vacancy rate in Minneapolis was 2.5 percent in the first quarter, according to an analysis of metro areas by the commercial real estate firm Reis.
The apartments Greystar wants to build would be distinct from other apartment projects in the area because the units would be larger, he added. The exact mix of bedrooms and rents is still being worked out.
Jim Gearen, among the investors who sold the eastern property to Greystar, said this week that Greystar must exercise its option to purchase the sites where the additional units are planned by the end of the year.
The properties include 2820 and 2828 Dupont Ave. S, 2812 and 2828 Emerson Ave. S. and 1209 W. 28th St.