Dixie's
A five-story building with 81 apartments above first-floor restaurants and retail space is proposed for the current site of Dixie’s, Emmett’s and Saji-Ya at 695 Grand Ave.

A five-story, 81-unit apartment building with first-floor restaurants and retail space is being proposed for the current site of Dixie’s on Grand, Emmett’s Public House and Saji-Ya at 695 Grand Ave. The developers have set two virtual meetings on their proposal, with outreach help from the Summit Hill Association (SHA).

A meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 18, will include a presentation of plans for the property at the northwest corner of Grand and Saint Albans Street. A second meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 8, will allow the developers to respond to residents’ questions from the first session. Both meetings require people to register before attending.

Peter Kenefick’s family has owned the 1930s-era building at 695 Grand for 38 years. In early 2018, Kenefick and Saint Albans Partners proposed a plan to replace it with a four- or five-story building with underground parking, restaurants and retail space on the first floor, and apartments above. That plan was dropped after a meeting with more than 90 Summit Hill residents, many of whom vehemently opposed the development.

The difference this time? “I’ll be 65 in June,” Kenefick said. “I’d like to leave a legacy that’s positive for Grand Avenue.”

This time around, about a dozen development partners were interviewed before the Minneapolis-based firm Reuter Walton was chosen. ESG Architecture & Design, which also worked on the 2018 plan, is back.

“By far and away, these are the best partners for the project,” Kenefick said. The current owners would continue to own the property after redevelopment.

“We have to consider what the future looks like for Grand Avenue,” Kenefick said. “How do we grow and how do we change? How do we design something that’s attractive? I want this building to be gorgeous. I don’t want to be known as the guy who left Grand in a blighted condition.”

 

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If all goes as planned, the restaurants would close this summer, with work starting on the site in the fall. Emmett’s and Saji-Ya would return, but the Dixie’s name would not. While some of its southern menu items might stay, Kenefick said he is sensitive to the negative connotations the name Dixie’s has with the Civil War South.

Kenefick’s vision is for an attractive building that has some open space and public art. He said the property would reflect the Summit Hill neighborhood’s historic charm and yet meet the needs of today.

“This building is tired,” Kenefick said, and in need of major upgrades.

The COVID-19 pandemic also has had an impact on the three businesses, which are owned by a group called Monkey Boys Inc. Kenefick said the restaurants had about 100 workers combined when the pandemic hit. About 30 work there now.

Ari Parritz, a developer with Reuter Walton, said the proposed project is a good complement for the neighborhood. “We’re excited to partner with the property owners,” he said. “It will bring the site to life and be a really good fit for the community.”

Kenefick said the mix of market-rate apartments has not been finalized, but the development team hopes to appeal to empty nesters who want to stay in the neighborhood, yet move out of their larger homes.

Neighbors express concerns

Some neighbors are eyeing the project warily, saying it could block light and air for surrounding homes.

M.L. Kucera, who has lived on Saint Albans since 1974, said the scale of the planned building at 695 Grand would be too much for the surrounding area. “Three stories would fit in this historic neighborhood, but five stories will change the character and the charm of the entire neighborhood, plus create congestion and other problems,” she said.

Saint Albans has been a one-way street between Grand and Summit avenues since the late 1970s, Kucera said. Adding more traffic and parking demand on that block are a worry, according to her, since the street is typically lined with resident and employee vehicles.

Access to the proposed building’s underground parking via the Summit-Grand alley also is an issue for some.

Parritz said the development team is aware of the neighborhood concerns. “We’re very sensitive to the impact of additional traffic in the alley,” he said. One suggestion that has been made is to work with neighbors on alley maintenance and improvements.

The number of underground parking spaces for the development has not been set. The parking area would have entrances on Grand and Saint Albans for the businesses, and the alley for building residents.

The development team has included members of the SHA in weekly conference calls to discuss the project and broader issues.

“We have to consider what the future looks like for Grand Avenue,” Kenefick said. “How do we grow and how do we change? How do we design something that’s attractive? I want this building to be gorgeous. I don’t want to be known as the guy who left Grand in a blighted condition.”

Possible rezoning

The SHA will not make a recommendation on the project until after the two public meetings. The property is zoned for commercial use and could be rezoned for traditional neighborhoods mixed use. The property is in the East Grand Avenue Zoning Overlay District, which limits building heights to three stories. Parritz said a variance to the overlay district would be needed.

It is not yet known what other city approvals will be sought. Kenefick and Parritz said the developers are talking to city staff to determine what would be needed.

For more information on the project, go to summithillassociation.org/695grandave.

— Jane McClure

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