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Renovated Palace Community Center a new nexus of neighborhood activity

In the 1970s, the Palace Community Center in the West 7th area of downtown St. Paul was “a very popular place,” recalls Christopher Stark, architect for the St. Paul Department of Parks & Recreation. “But it was also very heavy and dark and closed in, without any windows, like a lot of community buildings of the era.”
 
Last May, the center closed for a much needed expansion and makeover. With help from LSE Architects in Minneapolis, the renovated Palace Community Center opened January 30, its new glass façade gleaming in welcome to visitors. “We really wanted a new front that was opening and inviting, and communicated how we’re accessible to everyone,” Stark says. “All of the glass brings in natural light and connects all of the spaces inside to the outside.”
 
After LSE noted that the existing building had “four backs to it” and no real front, the design team used glass to “engage all sides of the building with the outdoors,” Stark says. “We didn’t want any visual connections to be lost, and the building is now connected with the streets, the softball and baseball fields, and the playground.”
 
Approximately 5,000 square feet of the building—almost the entire structure—was demolished; only the gym remained. Expanding the building to 16,5000 square feet allowed the center to expand its programming, as well. “Instead of only targeting youth and physical activities, we created a place with opportunities for all ages, from kids in after-school programs to seniors who can use the center as a gathering place for forging social connections,” Stark says.
 
LSE kept the building entrance at the corner of Palace Avenue and View Street, and inserted a new central commons area inside that shows off a new wood structure. Off the commons at the center of the building is a new community room (the old one was on the second level, accessed only by one staircase—no elevator) with a kitchen. The community room and adjacent senior room are separated by a flexible divider, which can be opened to create a larger space. “Another one of our goals was to ensure our renovated building included a lot more flexibility,” Stark says.
 
A new awning and porch on the east facing the ball fields are for anyone wishing to relax in the shade on summer days and watch the kids play. In the winter, the ice rink outside now has a warming room with an operable wall that can be opened to the indoor fitness room for more space. The warming room and adjacent bathroom can also be kept separate and open when the rest of the building is closed.
 
The renovated center is a Buildings, Benchmarks & Beyond (B3) project. B3’s guidelines for sustainable building were “developed for and are required on State-funded projects in Minnesota, however they are easily applied to any project,” according to the B3 website. The sustainable-design strategies incorporated into the Palace Community Center include a storm-water retention pond on site, daylight sensors throughout the building and energy-efficient mechanical systems. 
 
“We had a popular facility people had been visiting for years,” Stark says. “But it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It wasn’t meeting its potential. Now we have an inviting, environmentally sound community center with programming that provides activities for everyone, and with the flexibility that will allow the Palace Community Center to evolve over time.”
 

Little Box Sauna heats up Como Park with Nordic-style group sweats

After successful runs at IKEA in Bloomington, next to a hair salon at 38th and Nicollet, and on Nicollet Mall, Little Box Sauna (LBS) is making the moving to St. Paul—Como Park, on Como Lake next to Como Dockside, to be precise.
 
A “mobile hot spot,” as its founders and designers Molly Reichert and Andrea Johnson describe it, LBS was conceived, designed, built and deployed in 2015 as an experimental Creative Placemaking project “that generates vital and embodied social space in the contemporary city,” according to the LBS website.
 
One needn’t be Finnish, Swedish or any other Nordic nationality to join in a LBS group sweat. “Little Box Sauna is at once a beacon for quality and equality in the built environment,” the website proclaims.
 
The all-wood, portable sauna opens at Como Park on Friday, February 5. But the free 90-minute sessions, available only by reservation, are already booked for the opening weekend. The City of St. Paul will release new sessions for each weekend on the Monday prior (so the morning of Monday, 2/8 sessions will be released for 2/12, 2/13, and 2/14.) Sauna hours are Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 9:30 p.m., and Sundays 12 to 4:30 p.m. A private dressing room for sauna users is available at no charge.
 
“The vision for an inclusive and vibrant community in St. Paul includes new and exciting ways to activate public spaces,” said Mayor Chris Coleman in a press release. “This unique opportunity is a great way for residents to connect with each other and it maximizes the recent growth in activity at the lake and in Como Regional Park.”
 
The sauna’s designers—Johnson and Reichert—teamed up with 612 Sauna Society to bring the project to neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities. The City of St. Paul, through support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Warners’ Stellian and Como Dockside, joined forces with Little Box Sauna and the 612 Sauna Society to offer the sauna experience to city residents.
 
LBS will remain on Como Lake through February, after which the sauna moves to various businesses, parks, cultural institutions and festivals throughout the Twin Cities. Register for sauna sessions here or by calling (612) 567-7502.
 

Heirloom brings "hipster farmhouse" feel and food to Merriam Park

When Wyatt Evans decided to leave his long-time position as executive chef at WA Frost and Company to open his own restaurant, scouting out neighborhoods was key. “First and foremost,” he says, “I wanted to have a neighborhood restaurant, a gathering space for the neighborhood.”
 
Next, he wanted to offer an ambience “that’s refined, but that shouldn’t read as stuffy. I wanted to create an environment like Grandma’s house without looking like Grandma’s house. Cool, but not too cool. Welcoming and comfortable.”
 
Of course, the food and the ethics behind it were essential to the new culinary endeavor. The cuisine, Evans explains, would be “inspired by the farmhouse, with elements of frugality and the total utilization of product. That’s the ethic I’ve been doing with food. In my new space, I wanted to amplify that idea and take it on in a way where we honor the past in the present by looking toward the future.”
 
Heirloom, located at the intersection of Marshall and Cretin avenues in St. Paul, is the result. Last July, Wyatt began renovating the former bakery and photography studio into his ideal restaurant. Studio M Architects in Minneapolis did the design and architectural work. According to Greta Johnson, a designer at Studio M, “the words he gave us were hipster farmhouse.”
 
“He came to us wanting to express a simple, old-fashioned feel,” she adds. “Heirloom vegetables, old seed packets and Audubon prints were our inspiration.” Friends of Evans’ provided graphic design, artwork and tables for the 2200-square-foot restaurant. Objects with a “Depression-era simplicity” added to the décor, Johnson says: “Things from the past resembling family heirlooms, that might have had meaning to a family at the turn of the century.” Adds Evans: “Mismatched antique chairs portray the humble aspect of how we’re trying to approach the business.”
 
Local and seasonal are a given at Heirloom, Evans says. “At this stage of the game, if you’re not using the fantastic local products we have, you’re not a player. We’re not trying to beat anyone over the head with local and seasonal; It’s just what it is. This is just how I cook. The menu changes based on availability. So the food and atmosphere reflect that.”

As for Heirloom’s location in the Merriam Park neighborhood, “Dozens of factors play into why you pull the trigger on one space versus another,” Evans says. “The deeper I dug into the neighborhood and got to know it, the desire to have a restaurant here like this began to unfold. In my opinion, this neighborhood has a strong demand for this kind of restaurant. The neighborhood people we met with expressed a desire for it.”
 
Heirloom’s location between Minneapolis and St. Paul, three blocks from the Mississippi River and near St. Thomas University, were pluses. Moreover, Evans adds, “There’s a really nice mix of people in this neighborhood in terms of age groups, and a good foodie contingent here in Merriam Park. Our goal is to be affordable and approachable, create top-notch quality food for less, and in doing so create a new place for neighbors to gather and eat.”
 

Alatus releases drawings for Mpls' second-tallest residential tower

Alatus LLC is inching closer to breaking ground on 200 Central, a 40-story residential tower in the heart of St. Anthony Main. At 467 feet, 200 Central would be Minneapolis’ second tallest all-residential structure after The Carlyle — the distinctive sandstone tower immediately across the Mississippi River. If all goes according to plan, major site work could begin as early as spring 2016.
 
According to plans filed with the city of Minneapolis last year, early plans for 200 Central called for 325 residential units. The unit count has since been scaled back. Alatus is leaning toward condominiums, rather than rental apartments, though a final decision isn’t expected until closer to groundbreaking. The most recent renderings show a soaring glass tower, topped with a gently sloping crown that occupies about half a three- or four-story podium footprint.
 
200 Central replaces Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel, the St. Anthony Athletic Club and some surface parking. The 900-stall St. Anthony Falls Ramp will remain open and operational, according to the proposal, although it’s the subject of separate development murmurs.
 
The project will have more than 300 dedicated parking spaces, including about 100 tandem stalls for residents. Plans call for a spacious outdoor pool and deck area several stories above street level, plus a high-end fitness center, day spa and multi-use community meeting rooms. It’s not clear whether the structure will have first-floor retail or restaurant space.
 
The tower is the latest in a parade of announced and in-progress construction projects in the St. Anthony Main-Marcy Holmes corridor.
 
A few blocks north, Lennar is beginning preliminary work on the 5.45-acre Superior Plating site, the future home of a two-phase, mid-rise mixed-use development. To the northwest, Shafer Richardson’s proposal to replace Nye’s Polonaise Room with a 30-story apartment tower met fierce resistance from neighborhood groups and preservationists, but a scaled-back version so far appears on track. A stone’s throw to the south, the A-Mill Artist Lofts have breathed new life into one of Minneapolis’ most historically significant blocks. Other projects, some rivaling Alatus’ proposal in scale (if not height), are planned or proposed for 200 Central’s immediate environs.
 
 
 
 

Commons at Penn: Workforce housing and food co-op to open in North Minneapolis

The Green Line corridor isn’t the only area of MSP experiencing a boom in community-driven development. Two miles northwest of the Green Line’s Target Field terminus, at the heavily trafficked Penn Avenue/Golden Valley Road intersection in North Minneapolis’ Willard-Hay neighborhood, an ambitious mixed-use project is taking shape: The Commons at Penn Avenue.  
 
A four-story, block-long structure, Commons at Penn will house 45 units of workforce housing, a host of community amenities and the 4,000 square foot Wirth Cooperative Grocery Store — MSP’s newest grocery co-op. Watson-Forsberg and LHB Corporation are co-developing the project.
 
Building Blocks, a North Minneapolis nonprofit founded and overseen by native son (and former NBA star) Devean George, designed and financed Commons at Penn. Wirth Co-op is financed independently, thanks in part to a $500,000 federal grant, and will lease space in Commons at Penn’s ground floor.
 
If the current schedule holds, Commons at Penn and Wirth Co-op should open in spring 2016 — well in advance of the planned Penn Avenue BRT (C Line)’s debut later this decade.
 
“We’re shooting for an Earth Day opening for the co-op,” says Miah Ulysse, Wirth’s general manager.
 
The development will join nearby Broadway Flats in providing affordable housing and locally run retail along North Minneapolis’ densely populated Penn Avenue corridor.
 
According to Building Blocks, Commons at Penn’s residential component will feature a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units with touches common in downtown lofts: hardwood floors and nine-foot ceilings. Amenities include community rooms, an onsite fitness center and three laundry rooms.
 
Commons at Penn’s first floor will include a Northpoint Health & Wellness office. Though the Northpoint office won’t be a full-service clinic — the focus is on “community outreach with space for events and health education classes,” according to Building Blocks — the design does include two “flexible-use exam rooms.” Building Blocks will office in an adjacent suite.
 
Wirth Co-op’s arrival is another boost for the area, often considered a food desert: The closest full-service grocery store is the Cub Foods at Broadway and I-94, well over a mile to the east. Corner convenience stores and gas stations stock essentials and plenty of snack foods, but rarely fresh fruits, veggies or non-processed foods. According to TCYIMBY, about 40 percent of Wirth’s fresh food will be certified organic or natural; that proportion could increase as the co-op establishes itself in the neighborhood.
 
“Locally sourced items will be a huge focus for us, in addition to organic and natural,” says Ulysse.
 
As of mid-October, the most recent reporting date, Wirth Co-op had about 460 committed members out of a 500-member goal. Membership is $100 (one-time) per household, payable in $25 installments, and $15 for those qualifying for public assistance.
 

Highlight Center brings new synergy and office space to "white hot" Northeast

“Northeast is white hot right now,” says Scott Tankenoff, managing partner, Hillcrest Development, about the Minneapolis neighborhood. Hillcrest redeveloped the historic Frost and Crown Center buildings adjacent to Broadway and Central avenues, and will officially open the Highlight Center (a former GE Mazda light bulb factory, and more recently workshops and administrative offices for the Minneapolis School District) on Tuesday, September 15.
 
“The job and labor markets are unbelievably tight,” Tankenoff continues. “People are looking for commercial, office and retail space that’s high quality and durable. If you can add bicycle storage, showers for commuters, common areas lots of people can use at one time, a distinctive micro-brewery that tenants and visitors will use, rooftop garden areas and patios, lots of free parking and retain the building’s character within the existing fabric of the neighborhood, you’ve got a good mix.”
 
The Highlight Center does all that. Sport Ngin, which makes software for managing sports league websites, is one of the building’s main tenants, occupying about 30,000 square feet. Other tenants will include a law firm, Internet radio company, furniture rep and MyMeds, a cloud-based web and mobile application that helps users manage their medications.
 
“Space is moving fast,” Tankenoff says. “Many creative class-type companies would have looked in the North Loop but they like the price better here, and there are parking lots and other amenities nearby.”
 
In an adjacent building, also redeveloped by Hillcrest, Able Seedhouse and Brewery is setting up operations. “Able will have unique large taproom, and produce and distribute their product, but will also source locally grown ingredients like hops,” Tankenoff says, putting the new micro-brewery in good company alongside the likes of Bauhaus Brew Labs (in Crown Center) and Sociable Ciderwerks (down the street).
 
“The synergy creating by the tenants is critical to creating buzz and a community within the building and in the adjacent neighborhood,” he adds. “People want to be part of a collective.”
 
They may also want to work in what Tankenoff calls “the last great building in Northeast near downtown.” The brick and timber frame structure, built in the 1920s, “was a disaster” when Hillcrest took over, he says, as it had been used for storage, and for plumbing, key, maintenance, carpentry and electrical shops. The former 807 Broadway is “right on top of good, future mass transit, and is a large building that allows for patios, rooftop gardens and gathering spaces.”
 
The Highlight Center includes a common room for the community to use and will eventually incorporate solar panels for generating electricity. RoehrSchmitt Architecture and Tanek Architecture and Design collaborated with Hillcrest with the project.
 
“The process was all about retaining the character of the buildings, while adding a whimsical twist with materials inside,” Tankenoff says. “Our goal is to express the classic nature of historic buildings while making them relevant, modern, appropriate and fun for today. Both those architecture firms clearly understand that.”
 
 

North Loop's lumbersexual vibe gets boost with conversion of Jackson Building into Hewing Hotel

After months, even years, of speculation, the historic Jackson Building in Minneapolis’ North Loop, most recently home to the IPR (Institute of Production and Recording) College of Creative Arts, is slated to become a boutique hotel. “The neighborhood is spectacular,” says Tim Dixon, owner of Fe Equus Development, LLC, which is taking on the project. “It’s rocking. Empty nesters are moving back to the city. Millennials are embracing the area. The food scene is spectacular. We’ll add value to the neighborhood with an experiential hotel that will bring in the locals.”
 
Based in Milwaukee, Fe Equus is best known for transforming a 200-year-old downtown building into the Iron Horse Hotel. “The Iron Horse Hotel fulfilled the growing demand for experiential hotels and the need for additional rooms generated by its neighbor, the Harley-Davidson Museum,” according to the Fe Equus website. “Unlike any modern luxury hotel today, this brand new concept pairs high-end accommodations with special amenities for motorcycle enthusiasts.”
 
The Jackson Building will be renamed the Hewing Hotel, in a nod to the area’s milling history, which began with lumber. To “hew” is to cut or to fell. Think axe to tree. Which will fit right in with the area’s growing lumbersexual vibe apparent at Marvel Bar, Spoon and Stable, and Askov Finlayson.
 
In the late 1880s, many Minnesota trees were hewed to create the sturdy timber frame of the Jackson Building, which also has exposed brick walls and wood floors. Built on spec by Henry George Andrews (in collaboration with John Pillsbury, Thomas Andrews and Woodbury Fisk, Dixon says, the building initially had two floors. But as the area boomed, ceilings were ripped off and floors added. An addition was made to the building, as well.
 
“We thought about calling it the Convolution Hotel,” Dixon says, with a laugh, “because of the build out. On nearly every floor, it’s clear they took the roof off and put new floors down, over and over again. In the basement, which has really high ceilings, they used to pull a train in.” In previous lives, the building functioned as farm implement showroom and a warehouse.
 
The Aparium Hotel Group of Chicago will work with Fe Equus on the building’s conversion into a 120-room hotel with a restaurant and bar. “We start with the history and the building, then investigate the neighborhood and the city,” Dixon says, “to create food and beverage services that embrace the community and attract the locals. As we’ve proved with other projects, once you bring in the locals you become part of the fabric of the community.”
 
Dixon is currently living in North Loop, were he’s soaking up the ambience 24/7 in preparation for the historic building’s redesign. “It’s no fun going into the middle of a cornfield and coming up with something creative and beautiful,” he says. “It’s more satisfying, and you’re forced to be creative, when working within the barriers presented to you, from structure and materials to existing urban neighborhood. Our team at every level — operationally, design, food and beverage — will integrate it all to ensure the Hewing Hotel experience is consistent and unique.”  
 
 
 
 

Fort Snelling's historic Upper Post to be transformed into workforce housing

If the criteria of marketable real estate — “location, location, location” — still holds true, then a prime parcel in the Twin Cities has it all. Open space. River views. Recreational fields. Historical resonance. Old-growth vegetation. It’s minutes from light rail and freeways, and is adjacent to a state park with a lake, bicycling and x-county ski trails, hiking paths and an interpretive center.
 
Most likely, you’ve sped past it en route to MSP International Airport or the Mall of America. Or maybe you’ve played ultimate Frisbee, baseball, soccer, golf or polo on the site. Or even, having taken a wrong turn, found yourself in a ghost town with crumbling houses, grand dilapidated structures and overgrown thoroughfares that begin and end seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
 
Welcome to the Upper Post of Fort Snelling. Home to buff- and red-brick buildings — including an imposing headquarters with a grand clock tower, rows of barracks, and a lane of once-stately officers’ homes with columns and porches — the Upper Post is a National Historic Landmark, and part of a larger National Register District that includes portions of the Mississippi River and its environs.
 
For years, however, the buildings have languished. Owned by the State of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Upper Post has been largely used for parks and recreation. But in 1998, the DNR hired Miller Dunwiddie Architecture, Minneapolis, to access the buildings’ structural integrity and potential for reuse.
 
By 2006, a Save America’s Treasures grant secured by Hennepin County paid for the buildings’ stabilization. Work included re-roofing buildings, patching holes in the walls, sealing up windows and doors with plywood, and covering up porches.
 
But the structures’ only hope of long-term survival rested in their adaptive reuse. Many developers floated ideas. But only Dominium’s recent proposal to transform the structures into an affordable–housing community has generated true excitement.
 
“We’ve taken on similar adaptive reuse projects with lots of challenges,” says
Russ Condas, development associate, including St. Paul’s Schmidt Brewery on West Seventh Street and the Pillsbury A-Mill in Minneapolis—both of which have been developed and designed as affordable artist housing in conjunction with BKV Group. “But, as always, the Upper Post will pose its own unique challenges.”
 
Hennepin County, the DNR and other stakeholders “have done a good job of protecting the buildings,” he says. “They’re in decent shape because they were well constructed and feature strong architectural features from the late-1880s. But they’re old, weathered and in need of attention.”
 
The approximately $100 million project will be financed through a combination of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, Federal and State Historic Tax Credits, and other sources. “These tax credits make the project feasible from our perspective,” Condas says. Dominium specializes in affordable and workforce housing, as well as the adaptive reuse of historic structures.
 
“Projects like this one take an incredible investment from a construction cost standpoint, in order to make them work,” Condas says. “Without that stack of tax credits, the project wouldn’t be do-able.”
 
The project includes 26 buildings on the site, “which we’ll treat as one apartment community,” Condas says, with approximately 190 units of affordable housing. “While most buildings will provide housing, we’re also looking at other structures for amenities.”
 
According to Dominium, the Upper Post redevelopment “will meet a strong demand in the market; research…shows that in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, there are only 34 apartments that are affordable and available for every 100 residents making less than $20,000 a year.”
 
With the site’s location near the Mall of the America and international airport, the need for workforce housing is acute. The site is a half-mile from the Blue Line light rail. “We feel there will be a strong demand for these apartments, which will offer a great opportunity for people to live affordably in a beautiful location and easily commute to work.”
 

St. Paul planning its own version of NYC's High Line along the river


A river runs through St. Paul; one of best-known rivers in the world actually — the Mississippi. Yet, city planners remain concerned that visitors don’t even know the Mighty Miss is there; that residents craving for greater access still don’t have enough options; and that current railroad tracks and roadways are the biggest barriers dividing the city from its river heritage.
 
The solution? A “river balcony” or elevated path akin to New York City’s High Line that’s dedicated to public use, says Lucy Thompson, principal city planner in the Department of Planning & Economic Development for the City of St. Paul. The river balcony is part of the Great River Passage Master Plan, which passed in 2013 in order to put forth “recommendations for orienting the city toward the river.”
 
What’s triggering interest in the river balcony right now is the Custom House project. Designed by BKV Group, Minneapolis, and developed by Exeter Group, The Residences at Custom House, slated for completion in 2016, is a 202-unit complex created in the historic downtown Post Office, which sports unique architectural detailing from the Art Deco to post-modern styles.
 
The new river balcony will wind through the Custom House, similar to “where the High Line goes into Chelsea market, where you have pleasure of being on the High Line but it opens up into large public market space,” Thompson explains. Elsewhere “the balcony would be a continuous pathway looking at the river; an elevated path with ongoing activities and dedicated to public use.”  
 
“We’ve been doing riverfront visioning work for almost 20 years,” she continues. “From the beginning people have said they want to be near the river whether they’re watching wildlife or the floods rise. It really resonates with people. We’re excited to give people new opportunities to visually connect with the river and valley.”
 
An interdepartmental team from the City is current planning the river balcony, with help from the St. Paul Design Center and the Metropolitan Design Center at the University of Minnesota. “Right now we’re planning how to design the balcony from Robert Street to Union Depot, in order to figure out how to connect to the Custom House. They want to use the balcony to activate their second floor annex building.”
 
Even though the balcony will be open air, with unobstructed views of the river, the elevated pathway will travel through buildings from time to time, and may incorporate arcades and awnings for weather protection. The completed project will, however, “be available for programming all months of the year,” Thompson says.
 
“Giving people more ways to relate to the river is significant and will contribute to St. Paul’s livability,” she adds. “A high-amenity, high-quality design will ensure the balcony becomes a destination for activities. We don’t know the breadth of what we can do on the balcony yet, but we want it to be super distinctive, with elements of beauty and wow, so it gets put on people’s gotta-see lists as a destination.”
 
 

"Architecture of well-being" on University new St. Paul gateway

 
 
Tod Elkins, principal of UrbanWorks, likens University Avenue to a “Miracle Mile,” referring to the many thoroughfares across the United States that have become bustling shopping, entertainment and cultural destinations. University was once a major retail corridor and will be again, Elkins says.
 
“In the future, University will become similar to Washington D.C.’s Orange Line. New large retail and apartment developments have reinvigorated that transit way. I’m surprised University has taken as long as it has to take off, but sometime soon it will look that way, too.”
 
A new mixed-used project at 2700 University, at the corner of University and Emerald avenues at the Westgate Green Line light-rail station, is a leap forward. Designed by Elkins and his team at UrbanWorks Architecture, for Flaherty & Collins Properties, the LEED Silver, amenity rich development broke ground Monday.
 
“Historically, we’ve learned that to create vibrant neighborhoods, you should lead with housing,” Elkins says. “You need to have households, then bring in retail and offices, so throughout the day and year, people are active and on the street.”
 
Located between the St. Paul neighborhood of St. Anthony Park and Prospect Park in Minneapolis, 2700 University will be a six-story building with 248 apartments, 3,000 square feet of retail space and two levels of underground parking. The project will also have a saltwater swimming pool, sundeck with cabanas, cyber café, pet grooming area, and bicycle repair station with indoor bike parking, bike stands, pumps, tools, water bottle filling station and workbench.
 
Moreover, 20 percent of the living units are designated affordable or “workforce housing,” Elkins says. “To me, workforce housing means for people who work in retail in front of the house, making $12 - $14 an hour. Or artists. Or not the lawyers, but the support staff in the office, along with recent college grads or empty nesters moving in from the suburbs. In other words, the people of the community.” Legally, affordable housing is designed for people who earn 50 percent or less of the area median income.
 
Those workforce units will also be integrated throughout the building, Elkins adds, “to ensure a healthy societal mix of residents.” The building’s transit amenities also contribute to the building’s “architecture of well-being,” he continues. “Whatever we can design in to get people out of their cars and walking, bicycling or using transit — especially when we’re designing urban infill buildings — we strive to do.”
 
UrbanWorks’ design adheres to St. Paul Sustainability Building Guidelines — the City of St. Paul is a financial partner in the project — and includes locally sourced materials, energy efficient systems, LED lighting, doorstep access to light-rail transit, and as many bicycle racks as car parking spaces.
 
While the large site sat unused for many years, the City of St. Paul kept searching for a clear vision with affordable housing and retail, as well as a landmark that could serve as a gateway building to St. Paul. To that end, the building, which amply fulfills all of the city’s criteria, will include signage spelling out “St. Paul” on the rooftop facing Minneapolis.
 
 
 
 

"Inspired at Blu" brings student design to downtown Mpls

 
Now showing on the large digital wall in the swanky lobby of the Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown is a selection of work by Michelle Bowitz, a senior in the graphic design BFA program in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. In a novel collaboration, the hotel and the college have created an artist-in-residence program called “Inspired at Blu.” Bowitz was the first student artist selected.
 
About her work, Bowitz says: “Curiosity and motivation keep me learning and growing as a designer everyday. All of my work speaks to who I am today; pulling from personal experiences and techniques I have learned throughout my years studying design. Minneapolis has been an incredible source of creativity and inspiration. I’m extremely excited to continue my life’s journey living, working and exploring in this beautiful city.”
 
Every six weeks, Blu’s digital wall — a design focal point in the hotel lobby — will come alive with a different student’s display. “Inspired at Blu” will rotate through all of the design programs in the college, including architecture, landscape architecture and product design. After Bowitz's graphic designs, "Inspired at Blu" will show work from the college's apparel design program. The collaboration is the first between a hotel and the college.
 
“It is important to us that our guests experience a true sense of place when they visit and we wanted to not only elevate that experience, but also further connect with the vivacious art community that Minneapolis boasts,” said Steven Lindburg, general manager, Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown, in a press release. “We are thrilled to be partnering with the College of Design, University of Minnesota, to provide emerging artists a platform to showcase their original art within the city.”
 
The jurors who selected Bowitz’s work include Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown management; College of Design faculty; Emmet Byrne, design director, Walker Art Center; Heather Soladay Olson, founder and marketing director, Soladay Olson | Marketing for Creatives; and Barbara Redmond, creative director & designer, Barbara Redmond Design.

Later this spring, the hotel hopes to expand "Inspired at Blu" to gallery spaces in the skyway to show 3D work.
 
 

Pillsbury A Mill transformed into 21st-century hub for artists

More than a decade after Minneapolis’ historic Pillsbury A Mill closed, capping the city’s reign as the country’s flour-milling capital, the four-building mill complex—which includes the iconic limestone A Mill—is once again becoming a hub of innovation and industry, this time driven by artists. The developer Dominium, which recently transformed St. Paul’s 1890 Schmidt’s Brewery into Schmidt Artists Lofts, is completing the adaptive reuse of the milling complex with BKV Group into the A-Mill Artist Lofts.
 
The first phase, Warehouse 2, a four-story, wood-frame building next to The Soap Factory, has been open since December and includes 43 living units, says David Lepak, community manager, A-Mill Artist Lofts. The 1881 A Mill designed by architect Leroy Buffington, the south A Mill cleaning house, and the 1910 elevator known as the “red-clay-tile building,” will be open for occupancy in August.
 
“Dominium knows there’s a need for affordable artists’ housing, and we’ve been successful with other projects in St. Paul and St. Louis,” Lepak says. The complex, which will be LEED certified, includes 255 living units designed for qualifying artists. To support artists’ work, the complex includes galleries, a performance and rehearsal space, and studios for dancers, visual and multi-media artists, photographers and potters.
 
“The neighborhood is already highly populated with artists,” says Lepak, referring to the Marcy-Holmes and Northeast neighborhoods. The transformed A Mill complex will further “drive people to the area for creative resources, and bring untapped resources to an already existing artists community with theaters and galleries.”
 
BKV Group, a Minneapolis architectural firm, has been working with Dominium on the project. The design team started by conducting laser scans of the buildings, to determine where structures and floors didn’t line up, and where components were missing. In addition to shoring up exterior masonry, structural repairs included new steel support columns (particularly in the limestone A Mill), floor decking and joist repairs, and leveling the floors.

The project was made possible through historic tax credits, because the A Mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. As such, the renovation was closely scrutinized by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the National Park Service. In particular, the red-tile building—a former grain elevator—doesn’t have openings on the first eight floors, and none could be created. “It’s like a crawl space and we treated it that way,” explains John Stark, project architect, BKV Group.
 
The 27 new living units, instead, are on floors 8-12, and were designed around the existing openings, “which means each unit is unique,” Stark says. In the basement, the architects created a gathering space, fitness room and connections to the two-level parking garage. New outdoor landscaping around the railroad tracks is in the works.
 
The new complex will also have a roof garden with panoramic views of the Mississippi River and downtown Minneapolis, Stark says, and the landmark Pillsbury’s Best Flour sign is being redone in LED lights for greater energy efficiency.
 
Dominium is also considering the use of a hydroelectric heating and cooling system for the complex, using water from the nearby river. The water would enter through an existing tunnel, drop into a turbine pit and generate power to operate the complex. The initiative “would make the complex largely self-sustaining,” Stark says.
 
The project has significant merit regardless. “We’ve helped put the buildings back on the tax rolls, and created a new source of industry that tells the character of what Minneapolis was and is today,” Stark says. Lepak agrees, adding that the new A-Mill Artist Lofts “will add tremendously to the further development of an economically vibrant area of Minneapolis.”
 
 

Architect innovates design service for accessory dwellings

They’re known as granny flats, mother-in-law apartments, even Fonzie suites for those who remember the Fonz’s digs above the Cunninghams' garage in the tv show “Happy Days.” For years, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have been popular throughout the U.S. for homeowners needing an additional, separate living space for a relative (or family friend) adjacent to main house—and as a flexible housing option in developed urban neighborhoods.
 
Now ADUs are legal in Minneapolis. On December 5, 2014, the Minneapolis City Council passed a zoning code text amendment allowing ADUs on lots with single or two-family homes. Shortly thereafter, architect Christopher Strom, who spent countless hours working with zoning administrators during discussions about the code change, launched his new initiative, Second Suite.
 
“I wanted to be the first to market my expertise with the zoning related to these small residential dwellings,” says Strom, who has a thriving business as a residential architect in Minneapolis, and has designed ADU-type cottages for clients in the suburbs and northern Minnesota.
 
He learned during informational meetings that “a lot of people didn’t want ADUs because they fear too many people would be added to the neighborhood, resulting in extra noise and traffic,” Strom says. “But the new law limits ADUs to a total of 1,000 square feet, including parking; they’re only feasible on certain lots, depending on the positioning of the primary house; and the primary house must be owner occupied. Only one accessory building is allowed per property, so most people will combine an ADU with a detached garage.”
 
As a result, Strom continues, “The majority of the new ADUs to be built in Minneapolis will be Fonzie suites. Remember how he lived above the Cunninhgams' garage? He had a cool bachelor pad totally separate from the main house, but was always at the Cunninghams'.”
 
ADUs are a viable option for creating more space, whether for additional storage, an art studio, home office or apartment for aging parents. With the new zoning, the units can also include a small kitchen and/or bath. “They’re wonderful for seniors, and a nice way to establish multi-generational living next to the primary house while giving the occupant an integral level of independence,” Strom explains.
 
St. Paul, particularly the neighborhood of St. Anthony Park, is currently looking at its building codes, as well, by studying the feasibility of allowing ADUs on single-family lots.  
 
Strom adds that ADUs are “a great entry point for people to start working with an architect.” A well-considered design might result in an ADU that blends in with the architectural style of the existing residence, or be entirely different.
 
Moreover, Strom adds, “Second Suite represents a lifestyle that I want to be able to deliver to my clients. This lifestyle is about families pooling resources and enjoying more quality time together through care-giving that enables grandparents to help with childcare and adult children to help with aging parents.”
 
 

A prize-winning proposal for an unused Midway site

An unused parcel of land between the Gordon Parks Alternative High School and the High School of Recording Arts in the Midway area of St. Paul has become the site of a prize-winning vision for community redevelopment. Pablo Villamil of Wold Architects & Engineers and David McKay of Strand Design, both in St. Paul, recently won First Place in the 2014 AIA St. Paul Prize design competition for their proposed outdoor education and community space. The design “is about making a place for the people who live there,” Villamil says.
 
Villamil and McKay entered the competition because “both of us are familiar with the area,” Villamil says. McKay lived in Midway for many years. Wold Architects & Engineers designed the Gordon Parks school. “So we know the layers of community and history in the area, as well as the users,” Villamil says. “That was a big part of our design: identifying and creating a park for the community.”
 
The 2.44-acre parcel, which is surrounded by the schools, retail stores, warehouses, office buildings and parking lots, includes a large hill. “We had to figure out how to make the site function across that elevation change, and make it accessible so residents and people from the schools can meet and connect in the space,” Villamil says.
 
The team’s vision includes an enclosed classroom recessed into the hillside for the Gordon Parks school. A second outdoor classroom for interactive education would allow the school and the public to focus on renewable resources and energy. The team also proposed an outdoor amphitheater terraced into the hillside for the Recording Arts school. The site would also include fields of native prairie plants and flowers, a playing field and plazas.
 
“Education is a big part of the project,” Villamil explains. “We wanted to create places the schools could share, spaces that function for the individual schools, and areas in which residents could receive public education about native habitats, green technologies and renewable resources.” The team’s vision also invites the surrounding community into the space for gardening, gatherings and events.
 
As for whether the team’s vision will be fully realized, that remains to be seen. As winners of the St. Paul Prize, Villamil says, he and McKay will be interacting with stakeholders at formal events and at informal gatherings. “We’re really looking forward to their feedback."
 

Twin Cities architecture firms receive AIA Honor Awards

What do an airy and daylit community library, a renewed college studio-arts building, a sustainably designed and modern apartment structure, and a renovated historic performing-arts center have in common? All of these Twin Cities projects were recently selected for a 2014 Honor Award during the 80th annual AIA Minnesota Annual Convention and Exhibition.
 
A panel of jurors from outside the state selected eight projects for Honor Awards from 73 submissions. Four of the awards were for projects in the Twin Cities: Hennepin County Walker Library designed by VJAA, Minneapolis; Brunsfield North Loop Apartments designed by Snow Kreilich Architects, Minneapolis; the renovation of Northrop, a historic performing-arts and innovation center on the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis campus by HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis; and, also by HGA, Phase II of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, the Studio Art renovation and expansion, at Macalester College in St. Paul.
 
Each of those Twin Cities architecture firms also won for additional projects located outside of Minneapolis-St. Paul. HGA was awarded for the Marlboro Music Cottages at the Marlboro Music School and Festival in Vermont. VJAA won for its Welland International Flatwater Centre, Toronto 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto; and Snow Kreilich received accolades for a home on Lake Minnetonka. In addition, Leo A Daly, Minneapolis, received an Honor Award for the design of The Toro Company’s headquarters in Bloomington.
 
The AIA Honor Awards have five categories: architecture, interiors, restoration and renovation, urban design and master planning, and small projects. This year's awards were selected by a panel of jurors from outside the state: Angela Brooks, FAIA, Principal, Brooks + Scarpa, Los Angeles; Mary-Jean Eastman, FAIA, Principal & Executive Director, Perkins Eastman, New York; and Dan Rockhill, J.L. Constant Distinguished Professor of Architecture, University of Kansas, and Executive Director, Studio 804.
 
According to an AIA Minnesota press release, the jurors’ selection of this year's Honor Awards offers “a real snapshot of the meaning of architecture today.” The awards will be presented to recipients on Friday, December 5, at the 2014 Awards Celebration at International Market Square in Minneapolis. The celebration will also showcase AIA Minnesota’s 2014 Gold Medal recipient Julie Snow, FAIA, Snow Kreilich Architects.
 
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