Time doesn’t stand still for the Twin Cities skyline, nor for our distinctive neighborhoods. Back around 1000 BCE, the Woodland people built the first monuments in town; now most of those great burial mounds are gone. A few thousand years later, an entrepreneur dammed the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis; that collapsed and got a re-do. The Metropolitan Building: Gone. Met Stadium: Gone. Cooper Theater: Gone.
But so many good things have taken their place: The Minnesota History Center, Gold Medal Park, the Grand Rounds trail system, CHS Field. We’ve seen some great comebacks, too, like Union Depot and the Commodore in St. Paul. Since the very beginning — to the consternation of preservationists, and the delight of builders and architects — we’ve been building and rebuilding and revising and replacing non-stop in our two towns.
Right now, we’re in the midst of a redevelopment boom that has touched nearly every part of Minneapolis and St. Paul, from residential teardowns to re-envisioned riverfronts, from new stadia to new parks and trails. We have refreshed facades and lost landmarks. And the look of our cities continues to evolve in 2016. Here are our 10 favorite projects for this New Year.
1. Wirth Co-op, Minneapolis
A food co-operative is more than a grocery store. It’s a hub of community activity that brings together farmers, families and neighbors, and encourages people to cook better, eat better and live healthier lives. In recent years, we’ve seen new co-ops open and old co-ops expand across the metro area, but North Minneapolis has been left out — until now. Wirth Co-op opens in spring of 2016 in the Commons at Penn (which will also include 45 units of workforce housing and a host of community amenities, including the 4000-square-foot co-op) on the corner of Penn Avenue and Golden Valley Road, in easy reach of the Northside, Golden Valley and Robbinsdale.
“There was a vacant lot there for a long time, and now there will be affordable apartments and retail, which will serve the community far better,” says Miah Ulysse, Wirth Co-op’s general manager. “We’ll sell fresh, healthy foods and cater to the area’s diverse population from a cultural perspective, but we’ll also serve as an educational hub. For instance, we could offer classes on Vietnamese or East African cooking, and classes on tax preparation or financial planning.”
Ulysse adds that the co-op is just shy of its starting goal of 500 members. “Co-ops bring a sense of community and members have an actual ownership share. They can vote and have a say in what this business will really mean for their neighborhood.”
2. Utepils Brewing Company, Minneapolis
Good water is the heart of good beer. So we’re delighted that a brewery is bringing the historic Glenwood Inglewood site back to life on the edge of Bassett Creek. In the 1880s, travelers paid by the glass for pure water from the underground well here, which would eventually fill the Glenwood Inglewood Water Company’s bottles. That iconic business closed a couple years ago (the brand name lives on, bottled in Colorado). Meanwhile, this sweet site, surrounded by parkland and tucked away from the city’s bustle, is set to become a European-style craft brewery: Utepils (formerly Bryn Mawr Brewing Company).
“Part of the appeal of this site for us was the history,” says Dan Justesen, Utepils’ president. “It connects people with those who came before us. They can come together over a beer and tell stories in a place that has heard a lot of stories. That’s been going on with beer for 8,000 years.”
Utepils is taking over the former water company’s underground well and warehouse shell for its production facilities, and adding a highly anticipated beer garden and bar. The newly constructed bar, designed by LSE Architects, comes ready with a few old stories from across the river. “When the old Glockenspiel in St. Paul closed [in November 2015], we salvaged some great old woodwork and furnishings from their bar, so a little piece of German beer history from St. Paul will live on here,” Justesen says.
The Utepils site is a short walk or bike ride from Golden Valley, Wirth Park and Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr and Harrison neighborhoods. It’s the latest in a string of projects that have transformed once-gritty Glenwood Avenue into a stretch of hip businesses and cutting-edge architecture. The redeveloped site, called @Glenwood, already houses several startup businesses, and the addition of craft beer will undoubtedly make it a driver of future change.
3. The Herbivorious Butcher, Minneapolis
The Twin Cities will grow by a whopping 824,000 residents by 2014, according to Metropolitan Council projections, and much of the change we are seeing in these Twin Cities is designed to house, transport, entertain and employ this population boom. But what about feeding them?
The brother-sister team behind the Herbivorious Butcher — the world’s first vegan “butcher shop” — would tell you that feeding more and more people more and more meat isn’t sustainable. And it’s not necessary, with tasty alternatives coming onto the scene, say Aubry Walch and Kale Walch.
The Herbivorious Butcher won a devoted following as a farmer’s market stand specializing in meat-free meats and cheese-free cheeses. The duo’s proper shop opens in Northeast Minneapolis on Jan. 23, in a renovated brick storefront that will expand ethical eating and further the neighborhood’s evolution into a greener shade of cool.
“We’re in the building that used to be City Salvage, next to the Red Stag. Sometime before that it was a Buick dealership. It’s a glorious space and it just called to us,” says Kale Walch. “We had a feng shui expert come in to see the space, and she said she felt like it was giving her a big hug.”
“And then she cried,” said Aubry Walch.
The new space will enable the duo to offer hot lunches to-go and take-home items, as well as allow them to expand production to reach a national audience. They are trying to get celebrities like Jon Stewart to sign up for their 30-day vegan challenge — and the cute, charismatic pair is hard to say no to.
4. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
Minneapolis has the largest skyway system in the world, which is a wonderful thing in the middle of January. But when we’re all up in the sky, the streets are empty, which is hard on downtown businesses and drains our city of opportunities to interact with each other and our environment. Rather than suffer the fate of becoming a drive-through downtown, Minneapolis has embarked on an ambitious project to bring life back to Nicollet Mall — in all seasons.
Plans include improved safety and access for pedestrians; refreshed landscaping and street elements; an art walk and reading area; the return of streetcars along this arterial route; and better connection to Loring Park. Also, a 12-block stretch of buildings along this iconic street will receive a face-lift, including a new entrance for the IDS Tower. The $50 million project is the first major renovation since the 1980s.
In the summer, we can count on such events as the farmer’s market and music outside at Orchestra Hall and Peavey Plaza to get us to walk the mall. But a pedestrian-centered design will get us out in all seasons: In December, for instance, a sauna parked outside of Westminster Presbyterian Church was a hit, proving that our sense of fun can withstand the elements.
5. T3, Minneapolis
We wince when we see great old buildings come down — the warmth of the old materials and the charm of the old architecture just can’t be recreated. Or can it?
The T3 office building rising amid the remaining old warehouses in the North Loop neighborhood should fit in just fine. Developed by Hines on a surface parking lot site, this seven-story office tower will be the first commercial property in the U.S. to use an engineered wood product on its exterior. That façade, combined with chic Cor-Ten steel and plenty of big, gorgeous modern windows, pays visual homage to the neighborhood’s history while showcasing new design and state-of-the-art systems.
“T3 is the first new, ground up multi-tenant office building to be built in the North Loop neighborhood,” says Robert Pfefferle, director at Hines. “It was conceived and designed to reflect the character and history of the area, but also to solve some unmet needs of companies looking to locate their companies in a highly connected, growing, transit oriented, cool and convenient part of the city.”
The three T’s stand for timber, transit and technology, according to the project’s website. Pfefferle says the timber-constructed building is more than a conversation piece: It provides “highly efficient, highly adaptable work space that caters to the employee, and can support the culture of any of the forward-thinking companies and their highly coveted knowledge workers located in the North Loop.”
T3 is Minneapolis’ first building to achieve a WiredScore certification, which means its tenants will enjoy best-in-class wireless connectivity. It’s also located on multiple transit lines and bike trails, placing the building squarely in the heart of the city’s virtual and actual circulation system. Scheduled to open in the fall of 2016, you can see how the project is coming along by peeking in on the live construction cam.
6. Palace Theatre, St. Paul
As First Avenue weathers rumors of its impending demise in Minneapolis (the collapsing ceiling didn’t help), its owners have quietly partnered with Jam Productions and the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority to reopen the Palace Theatre. The 100-year-old classic vaudeville hall has been empty since 1984, when it served as a temporary home for “A Prairie Home Companion.” Not just Garrison Keillor, but also Charlie Chapman, George Burns and the Marx Brothers have stood on its stage.
When it opens this year, the Palace will host traveling acts that can draw crowds of 3,000 — a little bigger than First Avenue can hold. The $12 million structural stabilization will refresh the venue and most of the theater’s seats will be removed, leaving a general-admission main floor and second story mezzanine, in a delightfully ornate space. Sounds like a prettier First Avenue.
7. Film Space, Metro State University, St. Paul
Last year, 12 of the Twin Cities’ 14 major film festivals were held in Minneapolis. That’s set to change, thanks to a Knight Arts Challenge Grant that gave Metropolitan State University in St. Paul seed money to transform an underutilized auditorium into a cutting-edge digital cinema space. The new theater will enhance the school’s screenwriting and filmmaking programs, and enable it to become a community resource as a host to film festivals and other events.
“Our intention is to make it one of the finest digital theaters in the Twin Cities, serve filmmakers and audiences, and have a big impact on film art in St. Paul,” said James Byrne, professor in the Metropolitan State University screenwriting program. The 300-seat auditorium will be outfitted with a new projector, screen, floor, speakers, acoustical panels, lighting and other technologies that will enable Film Space to play any digital film made anywhere in the world. Film Space is set to open in April with the Qhia Dab Neeg (Hmong Storytelling) Film Festival.
In addition to tremendous student enrichment possibilities, Byrne adds, “this transformation will allow us to become more deeply connected to the community at large. We are working with the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood and the Eastside Arts Council to become a resource everyone in the community can enjoy. MSU has always been an active part of the community. This just furthers that mission.”
8. Custom House, St. Paul
St. Paul is transitioning from a city with a functional river used by industry to an urban enclave that showcases its river as a scenic, historic recreational destination. Just talk a walk or bike ride along Warner Road: Those dramatic cliffs, bald eagles and Mark Twain riverboats illustrate why this area is where people are heading.
Custom House, a 202-unit residential project in the old downtown St. Paul Post Office, opens this year and will enable more people to live close to the river. Even better, an innovative, much-talked-about River Balcony will wind through the complex and continue into a public space where even more people can experience the river in all seasons. Other plans for the site include a restaurant, hotel and retail space.
9. Grand Round, St. Paul
A big step for St. Paul riders will be the completion of a proper downtown bike loop this year. Raymond Avenue received its upgrades over the summer. Soon, Jackson Street will get a makeover that includes a protected bikeway. The goal is to connect bicyclists to such trails as the Sam Morgan and Gateway, as well as the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, so commuters can bike more easily downtown from various east metro locations. In 2017, we’re looking forward to the renovation of the Old Cedar Bridge in Bloomington, which will link riders across the river valley to both downtowns. Piece by piece, we’re becoming great metro area with safe, scenic bikeways.
10. OXBO, St. Paul
St. Paul’s slower pace of development has enabled the city to preserve a greater number of its old buildings. But when Seven Corners Hardware closed in 2014, a highly desirable piece of real estate opened up. This year, that corner will rise as Opus Development Company constructs OXBO, a luxury high rise that will include ground-floor retail and an upper-level set of hotel rooms.
“This type of mixed-use development brings a lot to community life because it is a work-play-live environment,” says Matt Rauenhorst, vice president, Opus. The project, he adds, will serve as a “gateway to a great entertainment district and a river amenity. We’re designing OXBO to strengthen connections to those resources.”
The six-story building, slated to open late 2016 or early 2017, will enjoy river views, including those from a rooftop deck. Sidewalks will link to river trails. Retail space is undetermined at this point, but Rauenhorst hasn’t ruled out a new hardware store.
“I know it was sad to see the old hardware store go,” he says. “But they were going to close anyway, so we’re happy we can bring new things to the neighborhood.”
According to Rauenhorst, Opus worked closely with the community on a design that fits in with the neighborhood’s Victorian architecture, as well as the contemporary Xcel Energy Center. “We think it links those two nicely,” he says. “We’re not trying to be ultra-modern, like so many new buildings you see, because this is a neighborhood with a lot of history. We hope we can help more people enjoy everything this area has to offer.”
This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy. Amy Goetzman is a Twin Cities writer and editor; she covers books for MinnPost.
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