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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.








 

LOT-EK proposes North Loop project using shipping containers

A proposed mixed-use development in Minneapolis could bring new meaning to the phrase “green building.” The 16,500-square-foot rhomboidal-shaped structure would be made of 60 identical 40-foot up-cycled shipping containers. The containers are painted green.

Planned for the North Loop neighborhood, the building at 506 4th Street North is being designed by New York-based architectural and design firm LOT-EK, with input from Snow Kreilich Architects in Minneapolis.

LOT-EK is widely known for using shipping containers and other up-cycled objects—like truck bodies and airplane fuselage—in architectural projects all over the world.

The North Loop structure would be erected diagonally on the corner lot where 5th Avenue North meets 4th Avenue North, leaving a surplus of green space on either side, according to a project description submitted to the city.

“The site, with its special corner condition…offers the opportunity for the building to establish a significant presence and to create a meaningful public space in this rapidly changing area,” the plan says.

In addition to the large lawn space, plans show a partially covered open-air public plaza in the center of the donut-shaped structure that would house a restaurant, clothing store and other retail.

Local marketing firm Akquracy, which is behind the project, would be housed on the top levels of the three-story building, as would a smaller suite of shared small-business “incubator” spaces.

Half of the uniquely shaped building would sit atop an existing parking garage. Given the underground wetland condition of the site, measures will be taken to minimize “foundation piling,” according to the plan.

A number of sustainable features would also be considered in the design, including solar energy options, LED light fixtures and automatic lighting control systems.

The plan was discussed at the Minneapolis Planning Commission Committee of the Whole in March. Senior City Planner Janelle Widmeier said committee was intrigued by the plan and didn’t have major initial concerns. The developers have not submitted a Land Use Application for commission to review yet.

Akquracy founder Scott Petinga said feasibility studies are underway for the project. “We are waiting to see the feasibility and how it is priced-out,” he said.

Petinga also told the Star Tribune in March that building with shipping containers can make securing financing for a project like this a challenge—something that caused a similar plan for the building to fall through after it had been approved by the Planning Commission in 2013.

“It’s almost impossible to get funding to build something that’s not status quo,” he told the paper.

 

Good to Great: Placemaker Gil Penalosa visits the Twin Cities

This week, internationally renowned placemaking expert Gil Penalosa is visiting the Twin Cities during the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation’s Third Annual Placemaking Residency. The residency includes 16 events over 4 days with Penalosa to get residents and planners collaborating on how to bring the metro area from good to great in terms of its parks, transit, mobility and overall livability.

It’s not as simple as it may seem, said Penalosa, the esteemed former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation in Bogota, Colombia, at the Textile Center in Minneapolis on Monday during the opening event. “It’s much more difficult to go from good to great than bad to great,” he added.

As the executive director of Toronto’s 8-80 Cities, Penalosa’s idea is that if you create a city that’s good for an 8 year old and good for an 80 year old, you will create a successful city for everyone.

The Twin Cities is on the right track with multimodal transit infrastructure, improved green spaces and pedestrian friendly development getting special attention from planners and policymakers in recent years. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to sit idle, says Patrick Seeb, executive director of Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation.

“[Penalosa] will help push us to think more boldly about what the opportunities are in the Twin Cities,” he said.

Those opportunities might vary greatly across the city—from parts of the Cities that are rather advanced in thinking about pedestrian balance and mobility like downtown St. Paul, where an Open Streets event will be held with Penalosa on Thursday, to places like the South Loop in Bloomington where planners are trying to figure out how to better develop the area around the two major transit stops near the Mall of America.

Then there are places somewhere in between, such as Prospect Park. Here organizers are pushing a plan to transform the area north of University Avenue into a vibrant mixed-use center of pedestrian activity around the new Green Line station. Construction on Surly Brewing Company's new destination brewery is already underway there, providing a potential anchor for future development, said Dick Gilyard of Prospect Park 2020 while leading a walk with Penalosa on Monday.

Penalosa says there is a tendency for cities in the northern hemisphere to mistakenly plan their infrastructure around the couple harshest days in winter. “When we think this is the norm, we end up with a series of tubes above the city that sucks the life out of the city,” Penalosa said. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” he added.

One of the key goals of the residency is to pull ordinary citizens into the planning process by giving them the tools, vision and lingo to be able to participate in meaningful ways, according to Seeb.

“People want to make a difference in their neighborhood, and the more they can help shape where they live, the more likely they are to stay there and reinvent and improve the neighborhood,” Seeb said.

With the help of Penalosa and an array of partner organizations, Seeb hopes the residency will empower people all over the Twin Cities to get involved in the planning and development of their communities.

Penalosa will be making appearances at places like Central High School in St. Paul to help students and community leaders explore how the school can better connect to its surrounding neighborhoods. He’ll stop by the University of Minnesota to promote biking and walking in the University district. He’ll also lead a walking tour of downtown Minneapolis and be the keynote speaker at the 20th Annual Great River Gathering Thursday evening.

 

First & First plans creative campus in St. Paul's Midway

The innovative developer that brought Minneapolis such imaginative properties as The Broadway, Aria and Icehouse Plaza is taking on its biggest project yet with its first venture into St. Paul. First & First is moving ahead with the redevelopment of a 5.5-acre, multi-structure property at 550 Vandalia Street in the Creative Enterprise Zone to be known as Vandalia Tower—a nod to the old water tower that will become a focal point of the property.

Founder and head visionary Peter Remes says he plans to transform the property into a dynamic campus housing an array of creative tenants from woodworkers to graphic designers, artists, architects and more. He says negotiations are also underway with potential craft brewers and restaurants. One of the defining features of the campus will be what Remes describes as a “secret garden” courtyard in the center of the complex.

“It’s a big campus, a big project by almost anyone’s standards,” says Remes, who grew up less than two miles from the site—a fact he says gives the project particular personal significance.

The 205,000-square-foot property sits one block north of I-94 and two blocks south of University Avenue where the new Metro Transit Light Rail Green Line will start running June 14.  In many ways, the location speaks to another of First & First’s defining missions—to connect a place’s past, present and future; preserving it’s heritage while breaking transformational new ground.

The Midway area of St. Paul has a rich history as both an industrial center and transportation hub dating back to the end of the 19th century when James J. Hill imagined the area as a central connection point for the Great Northern Railway.

More recently, the Vandalia Tower property embodied the industrial past of the area as home to the King Koil Mattress factory. Remes plans to keep that history close to the surface as he reinvents the property as a modern mixed-use centerpiece to a neighborhood already gaining recognition as a center of creative activity and commerce.

“That’s when the magic occurs, in terms of being able to honor that past and let that history breathe, and yet infuse it with modern day amenities…and just really have this juxtaposition that occurs when you walk in that can be very thought provoking,” Remes says.

The main building is currently home to around 30 tenants including a growing community of woodworkers, artists, and other creative entrepreneurs. Some have worked out of the crumbling building for years, while others are newly recruited tenants.

Nordeast Makers moved into the building last fall. Hundreds of members use the large shared workspace—and its collection of top-of-the-line equipment—to tinker, build and create everything from art and furniture to innovative software and technologies.

Remes says these are the types of tenants he hopes to attract and cater to at Vandalia Tower. “What they bring to the table is that energy we hope to continue to build upon and to grow,” he says.

First & First hosted a meeting with current tenants last month, many of whom are worried the lofty development plans will increase rents that would price them out of their spaces. Remes says that while modest rent increases are likely, the goal is to keep as many of the creative tenants already there as possible.

“We want these people to prosper, we want them to do well, and that goes for the neighboring businesses, as well,” he said.

 

Carter Averbeck transforms old into renewed at Omforme

Omforme, a Norwegian word meaning "to transform,” is the name of a new shop at 24th and Lyndale in Minneapolis. Omforme also describes the ways in which its owner, Carter Averbeck, who is part Norwegian, gives furniture and other home goods a new lease on life. 

The shop offers a mix of vintage and modern pieces that reflect every era, as well as original furnishings from local designers. Some pieces are restored to their former glory, while others get a modern update, Averbeck explains.   

The shop evolved out of Averbeck’s other business, Trompe Decorative Finishes, through which Averbeck creates murals and decorative finishes for commercial and residential spaces. Often, when clients stopped by the studio, Averbeck says, they would remark on the unique furniture in the space--often pieces that Averbeck had reconditioned.

Before opening Omforme, Averbeck experimented with several pop-up shops. Those were successful, so he was able to secure a permanent home for Omforme.  

From the beginning, Averbeck wanted to be near Uptown, an area that has an artistic, hip edge to it, he says. 

Lyndale seemed like an ideal location. “Lyndale is moving so fast into what Uptown used to be,” with many new retail shops, restaurants, and apartments, he says. “I got lucky. It was the right space at the right time.”  

Previously, the 1,100-square-foot space had been a Gothic-style hair salon. Although the place needed a lot of attention, “the building has great bones,” Averbeck says.

Averbeck took his design cues from the vintage building. Old World details blend with crisp modern shades of white and charcoal gray, while the colorful pieces for sale lend ambiance. “It’s like a high-class manner house,” in Europe, “a timeless space,” he says. “People say it’s like walking out of Minneapolis, into some place else.”  
 

Source: Carter Averbeck, owner, Omforme 
Writer: Anna Pratt 








Spyhouse Coffee contributes to The Broadway redevelopment

Spyhouse Coffee expanded into Northeast Minneapolis this fall with a third location in The Broadway, a former warehouse at Central and Broadway redeveloped by Peter Remes of First and First

The warehouse building’s other tenants include 612 BrewSeventhsin (a creative agency), and the Steller Hair Co.

Christian Johnson, who owns the Spyhouse coffeehouses along with The Bad Waitress restaurant in South Minneapolis, scoped out plenty of other locations around town before settling on The Broadway, according to The Journal. At the time, the building was undergoing early renovation work, according to the story.

Today, old barn wood salvaged from an Amish farm in Wisconsin, and the warehouse's original flooring and thick beams lend a rustic feel to the place.

A variety of antiques, including an old-fashioned roaster and custom-made furniture, add character to the space, as well.

Johnson plans to turn the Northeast shop into a roastery that will provide coffee to the other locations, according to The Journal.   
 
Chris Bubser, an architect and community activist who lives nearby in the Windom neighborhood, says the place makes a nice impression from the street. “I think the outside of the building looks great, and I'm glad someone saved and repurposed another cool old Northeast building,” he says. 

He’s fond of the big floor-to-ceiling windows, which provide views of the interior from the outside. 

The renovation respects the building’s original architecture, and “changes the whole dynamic of what was a pretty unappealing corner," Bubser says. "Those kinds of improvements may seem small, but the more developers make such improvements, the more momentum is built." 

Source: Chris Bubser, community resident 
Writer: Anna Pratt 







Betty Danger's Country Club to feature food and a Ferris wheel

Betty Danger’s Country Club, a Tex-Mex restaurant featuring dining while sitting on a Ferris wheel, a mini golf course, and a “pro shop,” is destined for Northeast Minneapolis. 

The restaurant plans to take over the former home of Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge, a retro drive-in at 2519 Marshall St. N.E., according to city materials about the project. The location has been empty since Psycho Suzi’s relocated nearby a couple of years ago.  

Leslie Bock, a.k.a. Psycho Suzi, owns both places, along with Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den in North Minneapolis. 

She described the personality behind Betty Danger’s in a letter to neighbors, according to the TC Daily Planet, which quotes her: “Betty is apple pie and sunshine, but sadly lives in a time warp with no sense of reality or logic. Poor Betty."   

The restaurant's most striking attraction, a 60-foot Ferris wheel, will offer views of the Mississippi River, the downtown skyline, and the Lowry Bridge.     
  
Last Monday, the city’s planning commission approved plans for the restaurant, which will also have a clubhouse, a covered terrace, an outdoor kitchen, and a full bar. The place aims to open by early next year.  City Council member Kevin Reich says of the neighborhood’s reaction, “The predominant tone I’m getting is that everyone’s looking for a win-win.” 

Parking is the main issue that has come up with the area’s neighborhood group. That said, it’s a solvable problem, Reich believes.  “The city’s not afraid of the novelty of it,” he says, and will be breaking it down into various regulatory items and other nuts-and-bolts issues. It helps that “the community is very engaged,” according to Reich.

Bock is known as someone who is “committed to being a good neighbor, who’s very creative, thinks out of the box, and brings landmarks to the area." In terms of finding the "wow factor," Reich says, “She’s done that in a big way."  


Source: Kevin Reich, City Council member 
Writer: Anna Pratt 











A photo contest connecting design principles and the life of the street

To flesh out its in-progress street design manual that’s part of a broader plan, St. Paul is holding a photo contest of “street elements" that can be found throughout the city.

The manual will provide "a clear framework for street design processes,” according to city information. Community members can help add to the manual with snapshots of “street elements,” which include sidewalks, benches, crosswalks, bike racks and lanes, boulevard trees, outdoor cafes, and more.

The contest, which has an Aug. 1 deadline, is open to anyone, from the amateur to the professional photographer, according to Anton Jerve, a city official who is leading the charge. Contest rules, along with a lengthy list of “street elements,” sample photos and image requirements can be found on the city’s website. Some people may even be able to use their smartphones, depending on how good their cameras are, he says.  

The contest is a creative way to get the public involved in the digital manual, which will see plenty of use from city planners, he says. “This is an opportunity for people to go out and take photos and help us customize the manual,” he says, adding, “It showcases the good things we’re already doing.”         

This will contribute to the city's Complete Streets Plan, which is all about street design that takes into consideration “the needs of all street users, of all ages and abilities,” city materials state. The manual will “talk about how we can bring the street elements all together to design a complete or balanced street,” Jerve says.            

Part of what makes it helpful is that “People will take photos of places they like. It gets people out and about and thinking about the streets, and the relationship between what we’re calling something in the manual and how it’s functioning,” he says.  
 
Source: Anton Jerve, city of St. Paul
Writer: Anna Pratt


Thistle store brings vintage wares to Milton Square

Thistle, an occasional shop that offers repurposed vintage furniture and other home accessories, opened in the historical Milton Square in St. Paul in May.

The space has had a variety of uses through the years, according to shop owner Heather O’Malley.
She describes the place as a “nice complement to the quirky building,” which dates back to 1909. It has a European feeling, with old-fashioned steps that lead down to the store. People can “overlook it from the street and down into my doorway. People love to peek over,” she says.

Although O’Malley made some cosmetic changes to the 800-square-foot space, “My type of furniture, quirky repurposed things, fits in well with this,” she says. To flesh that out a little more, she took away layers to expose old pipes and radiators.  

O’Malley, who also has a set-design business, had always wanted to have a shop like this and she likes the neighborhood. As far as work goes, “I love to find things and change them up and make them into something else, give them a new life,” she says, adding, “I felt it was time for me to have a retail spot for it.”  

So, when this space opened up, “It was the perfect opportunity,” and it makes sense for the neighborhood, too, which is characterized by older homes, she says.

Since the shop is only open for a limited time over the course of a month, “It’s not like a typical gift shop. It’s constantly changing,” with different merchandise all the time. “People feel like they’re on a scavenger hunt to find something no one else has discovered yet.”  

The shop’s next sale dates go from July 11 to 14. (Check the website for further details.) “People get excited about seeing what comes next,” O'Malley says, adding, “There’s been some really interesting comments and good feedback so far.”
 

Source: Heather O’Malley, owner, Thistle
Writer: Anna Pratt


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