City council rethinks hotel ordinances

Pedestrians pass by Restaurant Alma on a Monday afternoon. Restaurant chef Alex Roberts is working with City Council member Jacob Frey to change current zoning codes to repurpose the newly acquired space to create a coffee shop and a small boutique hotel named The Inn at Alma.

Christopher Wakefield

Pedestrians pass by Restaurant Alma on a Monday afternoon. Restaurant chef Alex Roberts is working with City Council member Jacob Frey to change current zoning codes to repurpose the newly acquired space to create a coffee shop and a small boutique hotel named The Inn at Alma.

Elizabeth Smith

A local Marcy-Holmes restaurant could see an addition to its property in the coming year, should the Minneapolis City Council approve a proposal allowing an increase in smaller hotels throughout the city. 
 
City Council members are voting Friday on a hotel ordinance change that would allow hotels as small as five rooms in the city. The effort, led by Ward 3 Councilman Jacob Frey, would give small business owners the opportunity to explore the city’s boutique hotel culture.
 
Frey proposed amendments to a city ordinance in January to make it easier for hotels and bed and breakfasts to choose their location and size. The change would reduce the minimum hotel room requirement from 50 to five rooms, and it would increase the bed and breakfast maximum from three to five rooms. 
 
As the ordinance currently stands, only hotels located in downtown Minneapolis can offer fewer than 50 rooms.
 
The ordinance was brought to Frey’s attention after Restaurant Alma owner Alex Roberts discovered he couldn’t open a hotel under current standards.
 
The restaurant, located in Frey’s ward and near the University of Minnesota, is trying to expand its business from a restaurant into a boutique hotel, a small hotel located in an urban location. 
 
“The word ‘boutique’ throws people off because I think people associate it with high-end, but we’re not looking to make a luxury hotel,” Roberts said. “We’ll use great materials and nice fixtures, but we’re not going for a luxury concept.”
 
The eatery opened in 1999, and Roberts purchased the University Avenue Southeast building that housed the restaurant and a Dunn Brothers Coffee in 2013. 
 
Since the purchase, Dunn Brothers left the location, which Roberts said opened up the opportunity to add another cafe adjacent to the restaurant.
 
After a closer look at the open space, Roberts said he realized the area would be conducive to the addition of a small hotel above the café and restaurant.
 
Roberts contacted Frey in December to see if there was a way to change the existing ordinance.
 
The ordinance needed to be revamped, Frey said, to agree with language in newer Minneapolis laws, leaving room for bigger changes. 
 
“What we’ve done is created a new category to allow for European-style boutique inns,” Frey said. “And as we looked at the hotel code, it became apparent that it needed some spring cleaning.”  
 
Roberts’ plan includes a six-room hotel — which is tentatively called the Inn at Alma — to go above a casual cafe, which will go in the space Dunn Bros was held, Roberts said. 
 
He said he hopes to fill the guest’s rooms with local and regional products, ranging from art made by local artists to locally distilled alcohol in the mini-bars.
 
“We want the hotel to feel like a well-appointed guest room that can draw people from within the city for a ‘stay-cation,’” Roberts said.
 
The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association sent a letter of support for the hotel and cafe in December 2014, executive director Melissa Bean said, as long as it didn’t require the building to rezone itself into a commercial property that didn’t comply with the neighborhood’s master plan. 
 
If the amendments don’t pass on Friday, Roberts said he will reassess what options to take, but he said he is optimistic.