Restoration Hardware shared plans and a new vision for retail during a sketch review at the April 4 city council meeting.
The council provided non-binding comments for the potential project that would – following future approval – be constructed on the southwest corner of Southdale Center along 69th Street and France Avenue, currently a parking lot.
The proposal would be to construct a three- to four-story building including a rooftop showroom, a cafe/restaurant, outdoor courtyards and garden terraces, all in a mixed-use, modern approach to selling furniture.
Stuart Wagner, of RH Proponent, showed pictures of other Restoration Hardware buildings in Boston, Chicago, Hollywood and Denver that showcased the focus on architecture and ambiance in attracting customers.
“We feel this will be a great addition to the corner,” Wagner said. “It would definitely activate that area. We feel the architecture would be a great enhancement to that corner.”
While sketch reviews in the past have led to hours of tweaking suggestions, the differences of opinion rested mostly on both the orientation of the building, currently designed to diagonally face the intersection, and an eight-foot wall that was described as both harmonious and “fortress-like.”
Councilmember Bob Stewart pointed to the Southdale Area concepts to enhance buildings and streetscapes as justification that the wall, although shielding the courtyard, would be less inviting than they envision the future of France Avenue.
“I would encourage you to rethink … with that in mind, and not continuing the problem we are trying to cure,” Stewart said, noting another Restoration Hardware building in Denver. “Even with this more grand design, you can walk right up to it. [It] doesn’t prevent them from engaging the building.”
Councilmember Mike Fischer equated the proposal to the “trend-setting” yet evolving nature of Southdale Center itself, but pointed to the diagonally-facing nature as a potential issue in the future.
“If I were designing this site as it sits today, I would do a similar orientation,” Fischer said. “Even though it makes sense today [with the water tower], I wonder if 20 years from now if we will regret that.”
Fischer urged the developers to consider what it might look like if the ring road transformed into a more grid-like street system.
Fischer also lauded what he saw as a building with two front doors.
“We struggle all along France Avenue with this,” Fischer said. “Most of the time, what we are dealing with is that they really want their front on a parking lot on the other side [of France Avenue.] Then what you get is some fakery windows with some display. There is an opportunity here to have real activity on two sides.”
Mayor Jim Hovland also applauded the project for its ingenuity, and he didn’t see the building orientation as a problem.
“This is just a tremendous project. I personally like most everything about it,” Hovland said. “This is something that Amazon can never do. You guys have made a determination to build things that are beautiful to go and see … providing an incredible experience in shopping. I thank you for choosing Edina.”