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Walker Art Center's new entrance a cultural and community gathering spot

How does one merge the architectural styles of the Walker Art Center’s two buildings to create a new, welcoming entrance overlooking the famous Sculpture Garden? This was the challenge presented to architect Joan Soranno, a design principal at HGA Architects and Engineers, and her design team nearly four years ago.
 
“One of the things the Walker told us from the very beginning is that they didn’t want a third charm on the charm bracelet,” Soranno explains. “Meaning they have the original [1971] Edward Larabee Barnes building—the brick building, and they have the [Herzog & de Meuron] building built in 2005—a very different style to the Barnes building.”
 
Soranno and her design partner, architect John Cook, led the Walker redesign project, which includes the building’s front entry foyer off of Vineland Place, the adjacent parking ramp, and Esker Grove, a new restaurant by chef Doug Flicker opening in mid-December.
 
The main priority of the new entrance remodel was integrating the inside with the outside. This union is evident inside the parking ramp, where you can now see out onto Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry. It is also notable in the extra windows added to the Bazinet Garden Lobby overlooking the Sculpture Garden.
 
“We’re trying to make the building a lot more accessible, a lot more inviting, with a lot more daylight and lots of views to the gardens—we’re trying to really integrate both the architectural experience with the landscape experience,” says Soranno.
 
Situated between the Sculpture Garden and the building itself, the new entrance on Vineyard Place acts as a community gathering spot. “This is why I like doing these types of projects,” Soranno says. “This project reinforces the Walker as one of the most significant cultural hubs in this nation with an entry experience that reinforces people coming together—whether for a meal, or to see a show, or for somebody who wants to be out in the garden.”
 

Small Park, Huge Impact: Rondo's Commemorative Plaza Under Construction

Since the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1960s tore apart St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood and destroyed his childhood home, Marvin Anderson has worked to make sure the heart and spirit of Rondo lives on. As one of the co-founders of St. Paul’s annual Rondo Days, and a board director of Rondo Avenue, Inc., Anderson has made it his mission to help others remember and revive the spirit of Rondo. “Happiness is the ability to give back to your community and make your community better than when you found it. That’s the key to me. That’s the key to Rondo,” Anderson says.
 
Anderson is currently spearheading a project to bring the Rondo Commemorative Plaza to life. Located at 820 Concordia Avenue, the plaza is intended to facilitate reflection, connection, conversation and community. “It’s a living reminder of living in a village of Rondo, and it’s bursting to find creative expressions of old Rondo and new Rondo in a space that’s ours,” he explains.
 
The plaza, which celebrated its groundbreaking in October, will be a pocket park located in a lot where old Rondo’s last two-story building was constructed in 1917. After that building burned down in 2013, Anderson organized an uplifting community funeral where residents came together and celebrated their memories of the place. During the celebration, the idea came to Anderson to create a gathering space in the vacant lot of the old building, which would commemorate the old Rondo neighborhood.
 
“I said, ‘We’re going to build something on this site,’” Anderson recalls. “‘We’re going to create something here in memory of the building, but also in memory of Rondo.’”
 
The plan for the space includes a promenade of steps, a built-in sound system, green spaces with benches, a 30-foot tall marker that can be seen from Interstate 94, and panels and exhibits showcasing the history of Rondo. Future neighborhood events are also planned for the space, including concerts, spoken word performances and events for children.
 
“We want to show people you can do something with something small and have a huge impact on your community,” Anderson says. “I got so much from Rondo. Rondo gave me the foundation to do what I accomplished in life and when I came back home after traveling for school, I felt that it was important that I become a part of this community—and what could I do? It was to bring this joy of Rondo to others.”
 
The space will hopefully be completed in Fall 2017. Follow along on the progress of the Rondo Commemorative Plaza on the organization’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
 
 
 

Transforming Central Project Updates High School's Landscaping and Exterior

When classes started at St. Paul’s Central High School this fall, students were greeted by new improvements to the building’s exterior, including an outdoor classroom, vertical bike racks and landscaping. The improvements were part of a community effort led by a group of parents and volunteers behind the Transforming Central Project.
 
The Transforming Central Project grew out of discussions in 2011 at the Central PAC (Parent Advisory Council) meetings about simple ways parents could spruce up the campus. Initially, the group of volunteers dubbed themselves the “beautification committee,” and made small changes around the grounds such as planting bulbs and perennials.
 
The same year, the group decided to survey the Central community about what further changes they would like to see to the landscape. The committee then took those results to the Metropolitan Design Center at the University of Minnesota, which created a document of potential design concepts for Central. This document later helped the committee discuss the vision with the wider Central community, community councils and city council members; it also helped them acquire grants for funding the project.
 
The updates coincide with Central High School’s sesquicentennial. Established in 1866, Central is Minnesota’s oldest operating high school. “The first conversations in 2011 centered around ways we could soften Central's exterior to help it appear more welcoming,” says Lisa Heyman, one of the co-project managers. “We have always felt that the Central community is very welcoming in the building, and the drab concrete exterior did not accurately reflect that warmth.”
 
Heyman and the rest of the team at the Transforming Central Project organized a grassroots community effort to get input, raise funds and gain support for the changes at the high school. Some of the environmental updates focus on improving runoff, which included a new filtration design, tree trenches, rain gardens and permeable pavers. New trees better fit the site’s soil conditions. There are more outdoor seating areas, and as a new paved path leading students to the school bus pickup and dropoff area.
 
The transformation was truly a result of building relationships with the community and created what was needed. “All of the changes to Central have been inspired by comments and suggestions from teachers, students, parents and community members,” Heyman explains. “Our hope is that the community as a whole will enjoy the new space and find it more accessible.”
 

Red Lake Band Plans Mixed-Use Affordable Housing Project

 
The American Indian Cultural Corridor in Minneapolis, home to the largest population of urban American Indian people in Minnesota, continues its ongoing redevelopment into an area of cultural pride and community cohesion with a new proposed mixed-used housing development. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians recently purchased a 37,367-square-foot parcel on Cedar Avenue, formerly occupied by Amble Hardware. The project will be called Mino-bimaadiziwin, Ojibwe for “living the good life.”
 
The site is “in the heart of the American Indian community” and located adjacent to a Blue Line light-rail station, explains Sam Strong of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. Plans include demolishing the existing, blighted structures, and developing the site into a mixed-use property with approximately 115 units of affordable rental housing. The project would also include a healthcare clinic and a variety of social service programs for tribal members, and the Red Lake Band’s Minneapolis Embassy.
  
The Minneapolis-based Cuningham Group is the designing the project. “While nothing has been finalized on the design side, we are interested in making this a sustainable green project and are looking into our options,” says Strong.
 
About 2,100 Red Lake Band members plus their descendants live in the Twin Cities area. “We are excited to build a strong, healthy affordable housing community for Native Americans in this culturally significant area that will not only benefit our own tribal members, but also the entire Minneapolis community and Seward neighborhood,” said Darrell G. Seki, Sr., Chair of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, in a prepared statement.
 
The Red Lake Band has long been a leader among Indian Tribes and has been at the forefront of numerous initiatives in Indian Country. Mino-bimaadiziwin, a new urban mixed-use project “is important as an investment in our community,” Strong says, “and will help meet the ongoing housing, health and other service needs of our people.”
 
 

Studio on Fire Celebrates Grand Opening with Steamroller Print Fair

 
On Friday, the letterpress printing company founded by Ben Levitz, Studio on Fire, holds its grand opening at its new location in the Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) in St. Paul. Now housed in a 1940s industrial building replete with enormous steel structural beams, large windows, high ceilings and operable garage doors (the building formerly housed a semi-tractor service garage, a garage door company and an adult arts program), Studio on Fire has room for its 15 employees and dozens of heavy-duty machines (many of them vintage printing presses).
 
When the building came on the market, “We put into motion something we’d wanted to do for a long time: Own our space,” he says. Previously, Studio on Fire was located in Northeast Minneapolis: before that, in Levitz’s basement. He also cites the neighborhood, which is part of St. Anthony Park, as an impetus for the move. Local mainstays Bang Brewing and Foxy Falafel will be selling libations and food, respectively, during the event. The neighborhood, which is experiencing a micro-brew boom, also includes Lake Monster, Urban Growler and Burning Brothers.
 
Studio on Fire, Levitz explains, specializes in “pressure-based printing. Letterpress, foil stamping, engraving—they all use pressure. That means our equipment is very heavy and most of it is antique, including 1950s and 60s Heidelbergs for letterpress printing.” As a result, Studio on Fire’s work—which includes business cards, packaging and invitations for individuals and large corporations—is visually striking and tactile.
 
You can watch the press operators at work through the windows in the Dogwood Coffee shop next door. Levitz likens the set up to “a tap room,” where visitors and coffee aficionados can get a first-hand look at the physical aspects of pressure-based printing. During Studio on Fire’s grand opening, the gang will take the printing outside, as well: a large steamroller will be used to create a giant print. They’ve done it before: go here for the video.  
 
Studio on Fire’s grand opening and Steamroller Print Fair is Friday, July 29, 1-7 p.m., 825 Carleton Street, St. Paul. Take the Green Line to the Raymond Avenue station and walk north. You won’t miss it. And it’s free.
 

RoehrSchmitt renovates factory to address need for office and retail space in Northeast

 
The old Miller Bag Building, plonked on the outskirts of Northeast Minneapolis’ commercial core, is pretty big. Actually, the hulking four-story structure and its three outbuildings are legitimately out of scale with their surroundings.
 
But scale isn’t necessarily influential. Since 2013, when the anchor tenant (the former Sam Miller Bag Company, now Airtex Design Group) moved to a modern facility in the Northeast Broadway industrial zone, the building has been about 80 percent empty. According to the Star Tribune, the rapidly changing manufacturing landscape forced building owner (and Airtex shareholder) Mike Miller “to reassess our manufacturing needs” and find a more suitable space.
 
Not one to leave an historically significant building hanging, Miller brought in the Ackerberg Group to help re-imagine Miller Bag as a proper 21st century mixed-use space. They renamed the complex the Miller Textile Building and retained RoehrSchmitt Architecture in NE Minneapolis to craft a suitably ambitious plan for adaptive reuse.
 
Three years on, the $8 million redevelopment is paying off. Ackerberg recently finalized a lease with St. Louis Park-based Stahl Construction, which agreed to take the entire second floor — a major get that brings dozens of jobs from the suburbs to the urban core, and brings the 48,000-square-foot Miller Textile to 35 percent occupancy. (Other leases are in the works, so it’s likely that building’s actual occupancy ratio is higher.)
 
“We renovated the building to create class B office and warehouse space with new infrastructure to serve the burgeoning need for office and retail space in Northeast Minneapolis, [and] house the explosive entrepreneurial energy attracted to this established arts district.,” says architect Michael Roehr, principal and co-founder of RoehrSchmitt.
 
The building was sorely in need of an overhaul. “We basically gutted the building to replace all the basic systems: plumbing, HVAC, electrical and lighting, and sprinklers,” Roehr says. “The main entry, core and circulation system was relocated to the center of the building, with new restrooms and a lobby featuring images and artifacts that celebrate the building's manufacturing history.”
 
The remodel also added and expanded windows to create “bright, welcoming and efficient spaces for professional and creative businesses to take advantage of the building’s unique environment,” he adds. A problematic part of the third floor was removed entirely “to create a dramatic double-height space,” and an “old-growth subfloor” was salvaged and reincorporated into design elements throughout the complex.
 
Roehr is proud of Miller Textile’s economical, resource-light, even low-key redo. “The project was accomplished on a tight budget, and represents a case study in efficiently wringing value and relevance from a building that would typically remain abandoned or be threatened with demolition to make way for something new,” he enthuses.
 
It’s convenient, too. According to Roehr, Miller Textile has upwards of 80 free, off-street parking spaces and, when complete, will boast plenty of on-site bike parking.
 
 

Transit-oriented development in Standish-Ericsson would build density

The Lander Group and Forteva have announced plans for a multi-unit retail and apartment complex on 38th Street in Minneapolis’ Standish-Ericsson neighborhood. The multi-phase project will reshape 38th Avenue west from the Blue Line light-rail station, and feature a series of connected new structures built around A Cupcake Social, located at the corner of 38th Street and 28th Avenue S and also owned by Forteva.

Andy Root, president of Forteva Development and Forteva Solar, also owns the Northbound Smokehouse building across the street from the proposed development, and additional properties near Chatterbox Pub and Matt’s Bar. “It all started when I bought the Northbound building in 2011,” Root says, which he successfully converted from a furniture store into a busy brewpub.

As Root looked at the surroundings, he saw underutilized space located within walking distance of the 38th Street Blue Line station. With public transportation and a growing business zone that also includes Keen Eye, Studio Emme, Buster’s on 28th and Angry Catfish, Root saw a fit for the City of Minneapolis’ movement toward denser, more walkable developments. Teaming Forteva’s neighborhood familiarity with the experience of The Lander Group, the two developers are collaborating on the proposal.

Renderings feature 51 market-rate apartments, mostly one bedrooms, with four retail units on the ground level. The project includes 34 shared parking spaces to emphasize the project’s proximity to public transit. Retail units would be occupied by neighborhood and small businesses.

Forteva would like to install solar power, as the company did at the neighboring Northbound Smokehouse property, along with EV charging stations for electric cars, and offer residents carsharing programs such as car2go or HourCar. The project’s “main driver is definitely the transportation,” Root says.

A public hearing on the development is scheduled for May 23. If approved, Root estimates a fall groundbreaking on the property with full construction completed by early fall 2017. “We’re looking at what [the city] wants,” Root says, emphasizing the project’s small footprint and ability to increase density. The site is the first of at least three proposals for the neighborhood from the collaborating developers.
 

From weeHouse to lightHouse: Alchemy Architects debuts high-style, small-footprint prototype

Since Geoffrey Warner and his firm, Alchemy Architects in St. Paul, debuted the weeHouse in 2003, the modular prefabricated housing system, which optimizes many elements of the traditional design-build process, has become a Dwell darling and a hit on the tiny-house circuit. The components of the weeHouse have also been combined and stacked in myriad combinations for clients from Pennsylvania to Marfa, Texas.
 
Now, Alchemy is premiering another prototype sure to transform modern living. On May 19, at Mia’s Third Thursday: Art of Sustainability, the lightHouse debuts. In an article on the Mia website, lightHouse is described as “a new kind of urban hotel and the next evolution of sustainable living.” Warner goes on to explain that lightHouse fulfills the firm’s desire to “do something between a tent and a house that wasn’t a travel trailer.”
 
It’s basically a shipping container with a door and windows, insulation, and solar panels, in-floor heating and filtered wastewater systems installed so the lightHouse could exist off the grid. That means it could be mobile, as well—and comfortable. “This will expand the idea of what you can do with limited space—sustainable doesn’t mean it can’t be comfortable,” Warner told Mia. “By inserting a room like this into the urban fabric, places both celebrated and ignored, you can start to talk about living in the city as an interaction with the urban environment.”
 
The 300-square-foot unit could also be used as an accessory dwelling unit or ADU, but with caveats: In the Twin Cities, regulations stipulate that any sleeping quarters must have a foundation and sewer/water connections. Warner is currently discussing with officials how lightHouse could fulfill pressing needs for ADUs  to increase density, sustainability and the shortage in affordable housing throughout the Twin Cities.
 

WOODCHUCK USA settles into new burrow in fabrication hub

If WOODCHUCK USA’s widely shared Instagram post is to be believed, it took the ascendant woodworking company all night to move its headquarters in late March. But they didn’t go too far: WOODCHUCK moved just 500 feet — give or take — down 9th St SE in Minneapolis’ Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. The company’s destination? The old RyKrisp factory, which WOODCHUCK founder Ben VandenWylemenberg purchased with three other partners a few months back.
 
The sprawling, low-slung building is becoming a 21st-century fabrication hub with a decidedly local maker flavor. WOODCHUCK USA is the main tenant, but other small-scale makers have already moved (burrowed?) in and set up shop, including a video production company (HECCO). WOODCHUCK has designs on about 30 percent of the space, leaving the balance for smaller tenants.
 
“We had been looking for the right building for our business and other businesses committed to building the economy with American-made products,” VandenWylemenberg told Kevyn Burger of Minnesota Business back in January, shortly after closing on the property. According to VandenWylemenberg, the property’s convenient location between the dense St. Anthony Main area and the I-35W/University Ave/4th St SE interchange is a perfect fit with WOODCHUCK’s hip vibe and distribution needs.
 
The location is also probably an asset as WOODCHUCK ramps up hiring. The company had about 30 employees as of earlier this year, but as orders accelerate, the headcount is likely to rise sharply.
 
WOODCHUCK first made its name in wooden phone cases. Its rapidly expanding wooden accessory lineup now includes flasks, bottle openers, coasters, money clips, electronics sleeves and even maps. WOODCHUCK sells direct through its website, and to a growing lineup of retail partners: boutique stores, high-end chains, and big box stores (including MSP-area Targets) as far away as California, South Florida and New England.
 
According to the Pioneer Press, the RyKrisp factory closed in early 2015, after parent company ConAgra decided that the market for RyKrisp’s distinctive — some would say woody-tasting— crackers wasn’t salvageable.
 
Ironically, just as VandenWylemenberg and his partners were doing their due diligence on the old RyKrisp plant, word came (via the Star Tribune) that three former Pillsbury executives had purchased the cracker brand. The beloved (to some) crackers are likely to find a second life, with a relaunch coming as early as this year — though the new manufacturing facility won’t be located in MSP.
 

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.”
 
 
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