An illustration of Westminster's future wing along Nicollet Mall. Submitted image

Historic Nicollet Mall church expanding

Updated: April 29, 2016 - 3:42 pm

Westminster Presbyterian Church has embarked on a major renovation project to expand its footprint and open up its spaces to the community on Nicollet Mall.

Construction started Sunday on a new 40,000-square-foot wing designed by James Dayton Design that will open onto Nicollet Mall & Marquette Avenue. A quarter of the new wing will be dedicated to an onsite community outreach partner, said Tim Hart-Andersen, Westminster’s senior pastor.

The church is in talks with an alternative high school and a nonprofit that offers early intervention programs for children that have faced trauma, he said.

The wing will be a glassy, contemporary counterpoint to its historic and stately 1897-era building with flexible spaces for worship and community gatherings. There will also be new green spaces for the community to enjoy, a green roof on the new wing and a system to collect rainwater for reuse inside and outside the building.

From Loring Greenway

“We’re creating a four-block outdoor room that will make this part of the city lovely, livable, walkable and children friendly,” Hart-Andersen said.

Westminster will be a book end for the new $50 million Nicollet Mall redesign led by James Corner Field Operations, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

He said the expansion project will help prepare the congregation for the future. The church has just over 3,100 members and draws people from all over the metro area, but mostly from downtown-area neighborhoods.

“The goal of the project is to position this congregation for the next 100 years in downtown Minneapolis. Across the country downtown congregations have seen challenges of one sort of another,” he said. “Westminster feels like it will meet many of the challenges by providing much better access, better visibility in the community and a building that is more of a 21st century design.”

To make way for its new wing, the church is demolishing an eight-story office building on Marquette. It is also adding new underground parking behind the church and renovating the historic church to make room for new libraries and co-working spaces, among other things.

Architect James Dayton, whose great-great grandfather was an early Westminster member, called the church a “cornerstone of the city.”

“We believe these new spaces will inspire and invite people with their warmth and light,” he said.

Westminster also purchased an apartment building on Marquette in 2012 in preparations for its expansion and paid moving costs to resettle 60 tenants.

The church has also committed to supporting 150 affordable housing and supportive housing units in the downtown area as apart of its $7 million “Open Doors Open Futures” campaign.

So far, the church has invested in 62 units of affordable housing at the Rose, a new affordable housing development south of downtown at 1928 Portland Ave., and apartments in the building once home to the King and I Thai restaurant in Loring Park, Hart-Andersen said.

Westminster is also working with HCMC to build 90 units of housing near the medical center for medically fragile people experiencing homelessness.

Construction at the church is expected to take two years.

A group of eight people founded Westminster in 1857 and raised $2,000 to build a church on 4th Street, according to the church’s website. After a major growth spurt it moved to 7th & Nicollet in 1883. Then a major fire prompted the church to move again to its current site at 12th & Nicollet in 1897.

Westminster was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

The church is also known for its Westminster Town Hall Forum series, which launched in 1980. More than 250 noted speakers have been featured over the years, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Eli Wiesel, Salman Rushdie and Tom Brokaw.

Hart-Andersen said the church is focused on helping advocate for the common good through its ministries, outreach work and speaker series.

“We have a highly polarized society these days and the church, I hope, can be a force for civic engagement and civic dialogue,” he said.

City Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) called the church’s renovation project a “gift to the city.”

“The church’s investment in our downtown and its plan to make its spaces open and welcoming to all is a remarkable statement,” she said.

Minneapolis Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer also offered praise.

“Westminster has given great thought to how it can best serve this city,” he said. “The new building, the green spaces and the commitment to affordable housing are major contributors to a growing downtown.”



  • amiller92

    They sure are good at PR, as this article just breezes on by the housing and offices that are being replaced by parking and what seems likely to be lightly-used institutional space.

    I guess it will come down to the community partner as to whether this can be an active city block or an empty obstacle to urban vitality. But we do know that whatever happens, fewer people will be living and working in the heart of downtown thanks to this expansion.

  • mattaudio

    What an extremely disappointing project.

    Nicollet Mall needs more people, not more parking. Unfortunately this project replaces affordable housing with parking and replaces office space with unused space.

    That’s why Westminster needed to get two ridiculous variances from the City (among multiple variances). The first and most concerning was a variance to build below the minimum Floor Area Ratio allowed by right as this parcel is zoned. That means they requested (and were subsequently approved) to build less dense than is otherwise allowed. That’s not good for the future of Nicollet Mall. The second alarming variance was to build more parking than is allowed in the Downtown Overlay District zoning area. Why are we treating less people and more parking as some sort of improvement? This is a major downgrade to an important block on Nicollet Mall.

    Not to mention the ~$23,000 in property tax receipts payed by the office tower alone which have now evaporated thanks to their demolition, which means that this $23,000 share of our property tax levy will be made up by other property owners in the City and other taxing districts. While this is made up by the fact that other responsible property owners in the city are intensifying their land use rather than de-intensifying as Westminster is, it’s concerning nonetheless.