The center of gravity for the Minneapolis tech community has shifted to Washington Square.
When Shorenstein Properties bought the three-building downtown complex in August 2014, the San Francisco-based firm had an unlikely vision of creating a tech-company hub inside one of the complex’s traditional, 1980s office buildings.
After significant interior renovations, more inviting green space and the right marketing strategy, the 22-story rectangular tower at 100 Washington is now home to two of the most prominent technology companies in Minneapolis.
Code42 signed a lease earlier this month in the building and will move its headquarters there by early next year, joining JAMF Software, which moved in last summer.
The chief executives for the two companies have already swapped dreams about the type of activities and events targeting tech workers, like code wars, speakers and book tours, that could be held at the building.
“Having a space like this is really important for improving and building the local tech community,” said Joe Payne, chief executive of Code42. “These kind of places are popping up all over the country and they are very effective in galvanizing the tech community. We are thrilled to be part of that. We view it as part of our role to make Minneapolis a deeper, more attractive place for tech talent to live.”
Dean Hager, JAMF’s chief executive, said being in a building designed with tech companies’ needs in mind has made the transition easy and has actually improved its connections to its offices in other cities through reliable, consistent wireless Internet and other technology enhancements.
“The Monday we moved in, I walked in, sat down and plugged in as though I had worked here for years,” Hager said. “Internally, it’s just a fun, energy-filled environment.”
The building’s appeal though has not always been so obvious.
Shortly after purchasing the three-building property in the Gateway District of Minneapolis, Shorenstein assembled a leasing and marketing team that crafted a strong narrative to pitch potential tenants.
“We’ve had to drag people down there. They think Washington Square is an island,” Erin Wendorf, vice president of office leasing for Transwestern, told the Star Tribune last year.
100 Washington is connected to the skyway, but there is a perception that it is disconnected from the city’s core. Once potential tenants saw the building, Wendorf said, they were sold.
“The shell that we have at Washington Square is immaculate,” Wendorf said Wednesday. “It’s not brick and timber; it has this really cool industrial feel to it.”
Designed by Minoru Yamasaki & Associates, the same architect that designed the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York, the closely spaced steel beams around the building’s perimeter are load bearing. That means open floors inside.
Tech companies are looking for space that makes a statement about their brand and culture, but also offers the onsite lifestyle amenities that help attract and retain talent, Wendorf said.
“We’ve had the perfect storm at Washington Square being able to offer both,” she said.
In December 2014, Code42 backed out of a deal to anchor a new office complex in the Uptown district of Minneapolis, sparking rumors that the company was in trouble, preparing to be sold or looking to move its headquarters to a different city. Since then, the software company has had a change in top leadership. Payne, who has only been leading the company for nine months, said he couldn’t speak to the decision made by previous leaders, but that “it was not the right move for the company at the time. It was maybe premature for us.”
He said this new space allows the company room to grow locally — which it plans to do — while also adding offices in San Mateo, Calif., Boulder, Colo., and Washington, D.C.
Code42 will occupy 68,000 square feet while JAMF takes up 52,000. Smaller spaces peppered throughout the structure are still available, but the level of interest at 100 Washington pushed Shorenstein to improve another structure in the complex, 111 Washington, where it has signed three new tenants this year alone.
“We started at 100 and hadn’t focused on 111 initially,” said Ronnie Ragoff, Shorenstein’s asset manager, but once it started leasing up, too, “we thought it was important to not just do everything across the street and make this the stepchild, we wanted [tenants at 111] to have direct amenities there.”
New design plans include updates to the lobby and plaza and the addition of an amenity floor on its skyway level.
“I think owners of other buildings are now going to copy us, at least I’ve heard that,” Ragoff said. “They see we are making a positive impact on the market.”
The complex’s most distinctive building, 20 Washington, is known for its exterior of thin, 80-feet-tall columns and its portico along Hennepin Avenue. (Some people refer to it as the centipede building.) That structure is fully leased by Voya Financial, an investment management firm formerly known as ING U.S.