Live Coverage: All Along the Witch’s Tower

This is my third neighborhood meeting in as many days (read the Tuesday and Wednesday editions). Nothing this impressive has been attempted since Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov became the first men to successfully die in space back in 1971.

Below is a lightly edited tweet transcript from an almost three hour meeting of the Prospect Park Association (the local neighborhood organization). The object of concern is a proposed 17-story building, which many fear will obscure the beloved Witch’s Hat Tower.

TONIGHT: watch me become the first person to successfully complete 3 neighborhood association meetings in 3 consecutive days.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) May 3, 2018

This line is almost as long as the one to ride the Witch’s Hat tower. But today we ride the concern!

Neighborhood organization staff person observes: “It’s like a sport round here, attending meetings.”

Atmosphere is electric. Person next to me says, “This is gonna be wild tonight I think.” Still a crazy line out the door, as the meeting begins.

Everyone gets a chance to talk, says the president of the neighborhood association. “But if we all talk we’ll be here all night.” He suggests people “keep it concise.” (Spoiler: everyone talked, nobody kept it concise, and we were there all night)

It was eventually standing room only.

Representative from Chicago-based developer Vermilion says this is the beginning of a “concerted effort to invest in the Twin Cities.” This will be their first project here.

Previous proposal for the site from different developer had a few curb cuts. Those have been eliminated. Task force from neighborhood association wanted them to “break up heights” which the developer has done.

Developer touts 13,000 sq ft of new retail, and 20,000 sq ft of preserved commercial space in the historic Art and Architecture building. “It was a major sacrifice” financially to preserve the building.

There will be green space open to the public, as well as a number of green roofs.

Developer: It was important to help existing neighborhood residents “transfer to horizontal living.” I think he means allow older people to sell their giant empty house and move into a condo.

Anxious guy in the crowd: “You’re taking a lot of time up, like, trying to sell us a condo…” Then he suggests we have the developer present at the end. He’s eager to skip the details and get directly to the concern. (I hate details too and would like to get to the part of the meeting where six people ask the same question about dumpsters and snow removal.)

Developer’s key points:

  • Skinny buildings to let sunlight through
  • Pocket parks
  • Green space
  • “Friendly and inviting.”

Where there had previously been parking, developer brags they are trying to be “good neighbors,” and have modified the plan to include walkup apartments instead.

The historic Art and Architecture building is in orange. Apartments are built over and around the existing building.

Developer keeps calling it “a collection of buildings” broken up. He wants to emphasize this is not a “monolith.”

Developer talking about extensive back and forth with the neighborhood organization. Guy in crowd asks, “So did the neighborhood organization ask you to make it taller?” Developer says he’ll let the neighborhood organization speak to that.

How will it affect “view sheds” from the highway? Here’s a slide:

Proposed building is the big white blob. Witch’s Hat tower off to the right.

This is what it will look like from a “whirly bird” says developer. Not a view that’s possible to achieve from a conventional vehicle.

This is what it will look like if you have x-ray vision and can see through trees and earth.

Proposed building is the black drawing under/behind the tower.

Lady thinks this presentation is misleading. This doesn’t sound anything like what she’s read on the neighborhood email list.

How will this new building affect your tennis game? There’s a slide for that too. This picture really threw people for a loop. (Why doesn’t the massive building look massive in all the renderings?)

Some confusion in the room about these renderings. Developer explaining to people that things far away look smaller than things close up:

  • Guy: “Why does that big building look so small?”
  • Developer: “It’s thousands of feet away.”

With the presentation done, the concerns can now begin for real.

Guy says he wants to remove a third of the tower, because it’s just too tall. Second guy is also concerned about obscuring the Witch’s Hat tower. He’s grown used to seeing it on his way home on “280” (which I guess is a roadway of some kind.” And parking issues: “They’re all gonna have cars and park them in front of my house.”

Important to note that the single story commercial building where this meeting is taking place is obscuring the Witch’s Hat tower right now.

There are traffic concerns. This is followed by Evan Roberts stepping in to tell people traffic counts in the area have dropped significantly in the last 15 years. (Reminds me of the kind of stunt Nick Magrino would pull.)

Lady is concerned about people using the spaces around the building to “urinate.” With some hesitation she says that “unsavory items” will be left around the building. (I’m not sure what “unsavory items” are meant to be a euphemism for.)

Obligatory garbage concerns have been expressed.

Did you know renters produce a lot of trash?

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) May 4, 2018

Lady says to development team, “You got off the rails when you got to the height of the tower.” Lotta claps. “I ask you to significantly reduce the height of that tower.”

We got a comedian: “one of you used the word “faulty” a while ago, so is the name of the project gonna be faulty towers?” I heard him muttering this joke quietly to himself earlier. He held it in reserve and released it — well done.

Series of supportive comments. Some clapping. Supportive comments are boring.

Local mom Serafina says this is about the future and sustainability for future generations. “It’s important to grow up, rather than grow out.” She says neighborhood has a grocery store now because they’ve added more people to the neighborhood.

“Parking will be a bitch quite frankly”

Someone says, “I’m tired of seeing architecture that doesn’t blend in. It’s just boxes.” Analysis: I don’t get the aesthetic concerns. It’s not “like every other building.” This seems like an especially nice looking building. Maybe these concerns are coming from people who are too classy to gripe about height.

Guy says he’s not happy with building blocking everyone’s view. ends comment with, “Jesus, fucking idiots”

I think if you put this picture I took before the meeting on the projector, people would immediately rip this building apart brick by brick.

This is not trick photography.

People now using the phrase “breaking the seal.” As in, a 17-story building today means more 17-story buildings in the future.

Older dad likes all the neighborhood destinations. Heartwarming tale so far. I’m holding my breath. Don’t know where he’ll come down:

  • “All those activities are gone, they’ve been forced out by redevelopment.”
  • “We will no longer be able to walk to a daycare, a summer camp.”
  • “We’re gonna look like Central Park” surrounded by big buildings. 
  • He says “livability” is gone.

Developer rebuts: they’re preserving commercial space and adding even more. Neighborhood will have more destinations than before.

Guy says there’s no 17-story buildings in the residential areas of Paris and other great cities. Second guy tells him he hasn’t traveled very much.

Lady says she liked the previous proposal. She wants to spread the development out with shorter buildings and distribute the traffic more evenly.

Neighborhood association guy going into extended explanation of the comp plan… Lotta people gasping.

You just know all these short building fans hate the idea of 4plexes.

People really want to see the tower at all times and from all places. Lady says make the project three stories.

Analysis: maybe we need a walking tour so people can see all the places in the neighborhood where you can’t see the tower.

Optical illusion: Witch’s Hat tower would be much larger if it were closer to the camera.

Prospect Park and the Witch’s Hat tower is like Catholics and JFK. Lady says you go into people’s homes and they have pictures of the tower framed.

Guy says it’s highly unusual for developers to spend so long working with the neighborhood organization before taking plans to the city. He’d much rather have this project, than take a chance on a “crapshoot” with another developer.

People are gonna move to Minneapolis, even without our consent, says Viswa. It would be preferable if we add housing to accommodate it. He uses the word “Livability.” Guy asks Viswa: does he think this project is livable? Viswa says he does. Lady demands to know where Viswa lives.

Is this the plan that will go to the planning commission? Will they revise? Developer, coy: “we’re listening.”

Guy says lack of rental housing has led to a lot of upscaling and increased rents in older rental housing. But he does have qualms about height. Likes that it’s adding housing near transit. He wins most nuanced comment of the night.

Hamburg and Rome don’t have buildings taller than six floors, says guy who lived in Hamburg for a while. Minneapolis doesn’t need any either. Says we can only guess at future population projections.

I have never been more optimistic about the future than I am right now, listening so many people embrace a “six-stories everywhere” vision of tomorrow.

Guy: “Massive gentrification is not gonna save the planet.” Ryan, seated next to me, points out this is already a neighborhood of very expensive homes.

Lady: How much student housing will this become? She then clarifies that she owns a triplex that houses older students. “But it’s a house.”

Developer: “This is not a student housing building.” BUT (BIG BUT): “We can’t put up a barricade and prevent [students] from coming into the building.”

Student: “we’re not that bad. Don’t be too afraid of us.” Encourages people to think of the youth that aren’t in this room. Wedge LIVE salutes the youth.

Look at me mom! I was quoted by @WedgeLIVE !

— George Abdallah 🇱🇧 🇺🇸 (@GeorgeYAbdallah) May 4, 2018

Guy sweet-talking the developer: “Please make it smaller… We’ll be here for you.”

Guy says Witch’s Hat tower will go the way of the Foshay tower downtown. He wants to know where the Foshay tower is right now. My producer Ryan, jumps in my ear to tell me, “It’s still there.”

Guy says if towers are really a “good” thing then why not have a second tower on the other side of the building? I’m stumped.

Lady doesn’t want people on balconies watching what she’s doing in her backyard. She’s from New York City. Lived in Boston. When she has “tea on her deck” she doesn’t mind hearing the light rail. She’s not looking forward to the shade though.

Guy just closed on a home two weeks ago. Gets applause for calling for eliminating the apartments in favor of condos. He wants owners, not renters. People who will invest in the community. (Analysis: you just got here!)

Guy asks, why so tall? Is this about money? Developer explains that negotiation with the Prospect Park neighborhood organization’s task force has resulted in a building that is “sculpted” with “carved out view corridors” and public spaces, while retaining the density level of the original, shorter, boxy proposal.

Lady says research shows people who live way high up in the air are less invested in the things happening way down low on the ground.

Research shows that cats who live high up in the air give less shits and are not invested in the neighborhood.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) May 4, 2018

Another person wants to “make the whole thing condos.”

Neighborhood organization guy says “ok, we’ve gone around the room once…” (Can we do it again!?)

Second neighborhood org guy says the goal of their process thus far was to avoid the aesthetic of the North Loop. Preference is for “an assemblage of buildings with slots” that allow sunlight through.

That’s definitely 3 times more concern than I have ever swallowed in one sitting.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) May 4, 2018

This was a three hour meeting. For those who’ve never done it, livetweeting is a strenuous activity that can leave your entire face and brain sore for days, so please support Wedge LIVE on Patreon!