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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.

Rayette Lofts: Renovation brings historic structure back in style

Despite the prominent corner it occupies at E. 5th and Wall in St. Paul’s Lowertown, the Rayette Building has always been a bit nondescript in the public imagination—perhaps because for the last 15 years, the concrete structure was a parking garage. The Rayette Building has a storied history, however. And last Thursday, the historic structure celebrated its most recent chapter as the restored and repurposed Rayette Lofts.
Now home to 88 market-rate apartments, with a roof deck overlooking the Mississippi River, St. Paul Farmers Market and new St. Paul Saints baseball stadium, Rayette Lofts adds to the “critical mass of residential developments, and entertainment and cultural amenities that are the recipe for sustained success in Lowertown,” says Will Anderson, associate project manager, Sherman Associates.
Sherman developed the seven-story, 145,600-square-foot structure in collaboration with Kass Wilson Architects in Bloomington. Because the project was created using federal and state historic tax credits, Sherman and Kass Wilson also worked in consultation with the National Park Service, State Historic Preservation Office and St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission.
“We needed to make sure our modifications were done in a historically appropriate manner that complied with the historic context of the building and the neighborhood,” explains Ryan DuPuis, project designer, Kass Wilson. The preservation process also involved extensive research into the Rayette Building’s history.
In 1911, Joseph Strong and H.F. Warner opened their large wholesale millinery business in the building. In 1936, Raymond E. Lee, a University of Minnesota graduate and creator of a permanent-wave treatment for women’s hair, had moved into and renamed the building Raymond Laboratories. By 1951, Lee had changed his company’s name to Rayette. The company’s products were famous for creating the Rayette Wave. In 1963, Rayette introduced Aqua Net, which became the top-selling hairspray in the United States.
Rayette also acquired the Faberge cosmetic and fragrance company in the 1960s, but vacated the building by 1971. In 1997, the Heritage Preservation Commission approved a plan for the building to be converted into a parking garage. During the building’s recent conversion to residential units, Kass Wilson was charged with removing a ramp that wound from the first to the top floors, and replacing the cavernous opening with elevator shafts, egress stairs and vertical ductwork for new mechanicals.
Because the original windows had been removed or badly damaged, DuPuis says, the architects also studied historic photos, and sought out original remnants “and whatever else we could salvage to recreate the historic window openings and arrangements, and mullion patterns.”
In addition to floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views of Lowertown, the units have polished gypconcrete floors, and corrugated concrete ceilings and brick walls original to the building. The structure’s columns were also left exposed in the living units, the spacious lobbies on each floor and in the second-level party room.
“All concrete is not created equal,” DuPuis says. “The Rayette Building was slowly deteriorating. We got to it just in time.” He credits Sherman with having the foresight to invest in the building and lead its adaptive reuse.
“We could have lost that corner of history in Lowertown,” DuPuis adds. “By enclosing, protecting and converting the structure to a new use as Rayette Lofts, we’ve reinforced the limestone façade and historic feel of the street for another 100 years.”

Greening the Green Line with POPS

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) recently released “Greening the Green Line,” a comprehensive report on the state of green space, and plans to improve it, along the Central Corridor. “Greening the Green Line” outlines a vision for a “charm bracelet” of parks and green corridors within a half-mile of the Green Line, including fresh public parks and privately owned public space (POPS) near new housing and retail construction. Pockets of parkland and public space would be connected, where possible, by bikeways and parkways.
The report has been in the works since 2012, when the Central Corridor Funders’ Collaborative tapped TPL to “lead a collaborative project that would build a shared understanding of how to integrate green space and common public gathering space in the corridor as development occurs,” says Jenna Fletcher, program director, TPL.
“Both the public and private sectors have a role in greening the Green Line,” writes Fletcher on TPL’s website. “The public sector needs to ensure that additional public parks are developed to keep pace with the demand from new residents and new workers…[and] private developers should play their part by incorporating high quality POPS into their developments.” 
“Greening the Green Line” outlines several changes that would significantly improve Green Line residents’ access to parkland and public space.
First, “city and public agency leaders must take a leadership role in pursuing a connected parks system,” says the report. A program of outreach, education and demonstration projects may encourage developers to pursue POPS, especially if the connection between POPS and higher property values can be made clear.
“Greening the Green Line” also encourages city and agency leaders to work with developers to incentivize the creation of new public spaces, through “stacked function” stormwater management (which uses creative landscaping and planters to alleviate flooding during rainy periods) and “value capture” approaches that can extract revenue from parkland and public squares.
Fletcher stresses that the Green Line’s “charm bracelet” will fit the area’s character and scale. “POPS can serve as complements to public parks, offering open spaces in varying sizes and forms where it may be difficult to develop public parks,” she says. “Open spaces do not need to be large, publicly owned, or even "green" for them to be beneficial for residents, workers and transit riders.”
The Twin Cities has successfully experimented with POPS already; Fletcher cites the MoZaic Building and Art Park in Uptown, which has a half-acre space connected to the Midtown Greenway and Hennepin Avenue.
The first Central Corridor POPS since the Green Line’s opening aren’t far off. Fletcher is particularly excited about Hamline Station, a mixed-use development between Hamline and Syndicate that will feature street-level retail, 108 affordable housing units and a central, open-to-the-public “pocket park.”
Green Line residents and neighborhood associations can encourage changes in existing and planned developments, too. “Sometimes doing something temporary, like parklets or painting the pavement, can be helpful first steps that serve as a spark that can create momentum for community members to coalesce around bigger ideas,” says Fletcher. “This can set the table for later, bigger investments.”
Though “Greening the Green Line” lays out a vision for years to come, Fletcher stresses that there’s a real urgency around the issue of green space in the Central Corridor. About 15 percent of the total land area of Minneapolis and St. Paul is parkland, but the Green Line is less than 5 percent parkland and public space. If nothing is done now, she says, the problem could get worse as more people move into the area and convert its remaining public land to housing, retail and office space.

The Shed adds unique green space to Crown Center

The latest phase of development at Crown Center at 1227-1331 Tyler Street Northeast in Minneapolis—The Shed—is setting a new standard for incorporating green space into rundown industrial complexes being repurposed for a creative modern use.
The Shed is a partially enclosed, 16,000-square-foot, public-private garden and park designed by RoehrSchmitt Architecture. The project demonstrates that, with a bit of creative vision, vibrant green spaces can bring new life to archaic industrial complexes being reinvented for modern use.
Hillcrest Development has been reinventing Crown Center, a formerly decaying iron works, into a modern commercial center that houses an abundance of creative firms, offices and the newly opened Bauhaus Brew Labs, as well as the Shed.
“We wanted something that would be compatible with, and would both frame and contrast with the gritty, urban, hard edge masonry environment that [the Shed] was in,” says architect Michael Roehr.
Housed in a bunker-like structure formerly used to manufacture tanks and armaments during World War II, the Shed incorporates preexisting architectural features to bridge its past and present lives. A large yellow crane remains suspended from the ceiling near the end abutting Bauhaus. Several metal sheet panels were removed from the roof to let in sun and rain for the plants.
Large metal tanks will eventually collect rainwater from surrounding roofs to irrigate vegetation in large concrete planters. After searching throughout the Midwest for reservoirs to incorporate into the garden, Roehr found the perfect tanks in a salvage yard only a couple miles away. It turns out they were salvaged only two years before from another building in the Crown Center that previously housed a linseed oil factory.
The Shed was already in development when Bauhaus Brew Labs announced it would open in the building at the east end of Crown Center. The Bauhaus beer garden, Roehr says, helped crystallize the architects’ vision. Lighting features add an enchanting ambiance after dark, and plans to incorporate a stage for performances and special events make sense, he adds.
Roehr says he sees untapped potential for finding creative ways to incorporate green space into similar industrial property renovations throughout the Twin Cities. “There is a lot of room, we think, to take the spaces in between [buildings] and create a continuity that engages the outdoors,” he says.
“We think [the Shed] really does set a new bar for how you engage these spaces in a way.” While such outdoor spaces may not be “directly leasable,” he adds, they “raise the value and general potential of [such projects] by creating quality public spaces where people want to be.”
RoehrSchmitt is also working with Hillcrest to develop similar exterior amenities at the old Minneapolis School District building down the road at 807 Broadway Street NE—the developer’s latest industrial salvage project. Also at Crown Center, Hillcrest is in the process of redeveloping a factory space into a showroom for Blue Dot, the modern-furniture design firm.

Alchemy Architects adds third prefab module to school

At Cornerstone Elementary School on the Montessori Center of Minnesota's (MCM) campus on St. Paul's East Side, innovative architecture and design are creating a unique learning environment that fits a holistic curriculum serving the school’s 160 students.

A 157,000-pound hydraulic crane recently dropped a new modular classroom into place, completing a 3-year, 25 percent expansion of the public charter school that is part of the MCM program. Total cost of the expansion is $1.45 million, including landscaping and a greenhouse.

The 1,500-square-foot prefabricated classroom is the third to be installed on the property and will house one of the school’s two upper-elementary classes (grades 4-6). The other upper-elementary classroom and one lower-elementary classroom are housed in two other modular classrooms installed during previous years. The other lower-elementary classroom is housed in the main structure on campus.

Lining the property’s natural wetlands, the three modular classrooms were designed by St. Paul-based Alchemy Architects whose weeHouse design and construction system specializes in prefabricated energy-efficient structures.

The unique classrooms support MCM’s philosophy of providing the best for the smallest in developing students rich in “character, will and spirit,” according to Liza Davis, special programs coordinator at the school. The classroom structures feature large windows that bring the natural setting directly into the learning environment.

“The response of the children—when they can sit and watch the change of the seasons or ducks laying their eggs—from the windows in their classroom has been pretty remarkable, especially for the urban children,” Davis said.

A teacher training organization since 1973, MCM wanted to expand its outreach and elementary education, which led to the relocation of the center to its current site in 2008 and the addition of Cornerstone Elementary in 2011.

The school is focused on providing excellence in education and youth development to diverse communities that often face barriers to quality education. More than 60 percent of the student population qualifies for free or reduced lunch, according to Davis.

The use of modular classrooms has practical advantages, as well. They provide a financially savvy way to gradually expand facilities as the school grows over time.

“The charter school very quickly needed to have more space to really serve the number of children it needed to serve,” Davis said. “We needed to expand the campus and have beautiful spaces but still be financially responsible.”

Being able to expand in an affordable way that adds a valuable layer of education makes MCM’s expansion unique. The modular classrooms incorporate all facets of the curriculum in the same space with science facilities, and even a kitchen built into the structures.

“You really feel like you are in a living community space, not just a classroom that is separated into sections,” Davis says.

As with the previous installations, students and their families watched the new structure get hoisted 30 feet into the air and set in place. Davis says the design and installation process give students a sense of ownership over their learning environment.

As an example, the patios off the classrooms needed a good bit of shoveling during winter. Davis says the students were eager to pick up shovels and get to work taking care of their space.

“Seeing that something is intentional, that it’s beautiful, and that there are natural materials involved…helps communicate the same philosophy that drives our work with the children,” she adds.


Is LoHi East the new old Uptown?

With the recent surge of new boutique businesses opening along and near Lyndale Avenue just south of downtown Minneapolis, the Lowry Hill East area is beginning to look a lot like the Uptown of yore. That is, before national chains like Apple and Urban Outfitters showed up and ran many of the mom and pop establishments out town—or a little down the road.

LoHi East, the area just south of downtown Minneapolis containing the Loring, Wedge and Lyn-Lake neighborhoods, has long been Uptown’s beloved, disheveled sibling. Now, some local businesses are seeking to rebrand the area with a catchy name referencing Lowry Hill East (just as the North Loop is colloquially called NoLo).

“There are some awesome businesses that have just opened up. It’s exactly what Uptown used to be,” says Carter Averbeck, owner of Omforme Design. He’s leading the grassroots rebranding effort.

With a new name, and a new crowd of residents and businesses settling in, the area seems to be shedding its somewhat granola vibe for a trendier, modern-day hipster character. As Averbeck says: “We’re trading in our Birkenstocks for tattoos.”

At least nine new shops and restaurants opened in the area within the last year. LoHi East also seems to be riding the recent wave of development storming the Uptown area. A whole host of new luxury apartments like Blue on Bryant and the Murals of Lynlake, among others, are attracting a new generation of residents.

“Of course, it’s all 20- and 30-something-year-olds and the new shops are right up their alley. If you’re 27 and have a new pad, you want to fill it up with cool stuff,” Averbeck says.

Averbeck’s business—a home décor shop that specializes in reviving vintage items with singular panache—is being joined by other unique boutiques like Serendipity Road and the Showroom. The latter bills itself as a place “where fashion, jewelry, accessories, furniture and art cooperate.”

New eateries and bars like Heyday and World Street Kitchen are also help generate a livable, vibrant neighborhood where people walk and meander, instead of simply passing through.

“Every storefront that had been vacant for years is now getting snapped up,” Averbeck says. “Right now the revival is in its infancy but it’s moving fast.”

Looking to capitalize on the momentum, Averbeck says he and other business owners are putting together an event this summer that would close off Lyndale Avenue for a big runway fashion show and festival. They haven’t secured the permits to do so yet, but he says the tight-knit business community is meeting regularly with the neighborhood and other business associations to keep the renaissance rolling.

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