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

Artist's rendering of the completed project

The future rooftop deck, courtesy A-Mill Artist Lofts

The future garden, courtesy BKV Group

The red-tile building under renovation, courtesy Jennifer Kramer

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.”
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