Downtown Minneapolis may get a new fire station as developer remakes block with apartments, ramp

Before Sherman Associates can build apartments, it must create new downtown station for city.

By Matthew Niksa Star Tribune

The city of Minneapolis and Sherman Associates are discussing a plan to replace Fire Station 1, which serves downtown, on a block where the developer wants to build two new apartment complexes and a parking ramp.

Sherman last summer revealed its desire to build a 22-story apartment tower and six-story apartment building on the block bounded by S. Washington Avenue, Portland Avenue, S. 3rd Street and S. 5th Avenue. It said at the time that it hoped to reach a deal with the city to relocate the fire station, a two-story structure at 530 S. 3rd that dates back to 1909.

Since then, the firm has worked with an architecture firm that specializes in public-safety buildings and reached the outline of a deal with the city. Under it, Sherman would buy the existing station, build the new one, sell the new one to the city, tear down the old one and then construct the apartment building and parking ramp.

The six-story building would be built along S. 3rd, including on the corner of the existing station and adjacent to the new one. Its 90 units would be designated as "affordable" housing that are rented at below market rates.

"In a lot of ways, the rest of the development is dependent upon the new fire station getting built just because we would put the affordable housing where the existing fire station is going," Shane LaFave, a development director at Sherman, said Monday.

"If the existing fire station stayed or something didn't work out with the city, we'd have to retool the whole development and refigure things and see how all that would work," he said.

The developer recently unveiled a new rendering of the new station, which will be 20,000 square feet in size and positioned on the corner of S. 5th Avenue and S. 3rd Street with its front facing S. 5th.

The firm will go to the city's planning commission with formal plans this fall, LaFave said.

If the plan proceeds, Minneapolis will be getting a new downtown fire station around the time that it is moving police to a new downtown precinct. City officials acknowledged last week they are looking at several locations for a new First Precinct police station, notably the site of the soon-to-be-vacated Public Service Center at S. 4th Street and S. 3rd Avenue.

LaFave said he hopes the new fire station is completed and operational by the summer of 2021. Construction of other parts of the project could begin next year while the new fire station is being built.

About half of the block today is surface parking, with Fire Station 1 at the corner of Portland and S. 3rd and a dining complex anchored by the Crooked Pint Ale House on the corner of Washington and 5th avenues.

Because Sherman's architects did not have fire station design experience, the city of Minneapolis hired architecture and planning firm Hay Dobbs to represent Sherman and communicate their fire station design requirements to them, said Sarah McKenzie, a spokeswoman for the city.

The city would have put out a request for proposals to design and construct a new fire station but agreed to let Sherman construct the new station because it wouldn't have been feasible to have a contractor on the behalf of the city and a contractor on behalf of Sherman to build different components of the same station, McKenzie said.

The apartment building, affordable housing building and parking ramp are in their design and financing selection phase. Sherman is also talking to the city about potential gap financing, a loan that covers the difference between the construction loan and the permanent financing, for the affordable-housing component.

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