Developer Robert Boisclair dies at 71

  • Article by: JENNIFER BJORHUS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 21, 2011 - 9:13 PM

The Deephaven resident, who built Riverplace and Galtier Plaza as well as one of the first condo towers in Minneapolis, died after a long battle with cancer.

Robert Boisclair at Riverplace in 1988.

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There's a good chance that anyone who lives in the Twin Cities will, at some point, visit one of Robert Boisclair's buildings.

The pioneering developer gave Minneapolis one of its first condo towers in 1978, Lake Point Condominiums on Lake Calhoun, built thousands of apartment units around the metro area and was the force behind two controversial landmarks: Riverplace in Minneapolis and Galtier Plaza in St. Paul.

"Bob was definitely ahead of his time. I think he was a trailblazer," said Mary Bujold of Minneapolis-based Maxfield Research Inc. "I think he had a vision and I just think the Twin Cities maybe wasn't ready to handle that."

Boisclair, 71, died Feb. 16 at his home in Deephaven after a long battle with cancer.

Described as courageous and heartfelt, Boisclair became one of the largest developers in the Twin Cities. His numerous housing projects ran the gamut, from Section 8 subsidized apartments to upscale condos, but he focused mostly on apartments, said Frank Dunbar, head of Dunbar Development who worked alongside Boisclair for many years.

Dunbar described Boisclair's company, Minneapolis-based Boisclair Corp., as a jobs machine for architects, engineers, contractors and, ultimately for developers such as himself, whom he helped train.

"There's a great group of people out there that are kind of Boisclair Corp. alumni," Dunbar said. "He schooled an awful lot of people in development."

One is Tom Commerford, now vice president of investment services at Grubb & Ellis/Northco. Commerford called Boisclair "a guru of housing revenue bonds" and a "classy guy."

Dunbar said that Hubert H. Humphrey introduced Boisclair to Kajima Development Corp., the Japanese construction and engineering company that partnered with Boisclair on both Lake Point Condominiums and Riverplace.

Boisclair Corp., run by Boisclair's wife and business partner Lori, has nearly 20 apartment buildings in its portfolio, Lori Boisclair said. Two well-known buildings are Knox Landing, a 212-unit senior complex in Bloomington, and Brooks Landing, a 110-unit senior high-rise in Brooklyn Park.

"He loved high-rises," Lori Boisclair said.

Despite his extensive work in apartments, Boisclair will perhaps be best remembered for Riverplace and Galtier Plaza, two highly ambitious mixed-used projects that are regarded as financial flops. Riverplace is just across the Mississippi from downtown Minneapolis; Galtier in downtown St. Paul. The buildings underperformed for myriad complex reasons, Bujold said. For starters, they opened at a time when people were packing for the suburbs. Downtown living was yet to be cool.

"I think what they did is set a tone for development in their respective downtowns and started a wave of more sophisticated residential and commercial development, Bujold said. "There was absolutely nothing like Galtier Plaza in downtown St. Paul."

The financial problems at Riverplace and Galtier were hard on Boisclair, his wife said. He had to restructure his business, which shrank from 200 employees to about 45.

"He always liked to say to family, 'I'm no longer shooting elephants, I'm doing things quietly in the suburbs and enjoying my life,'" she said.

His pleasures were simple ones, she said, including his faith and staying at home and reading: "He just loved peace and solitude."

She noted that his family hailed from Quebec, and that his grandparents were married at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, a historic church that sits just behind Riverplace. She said Bob had Riverplace designed with a break in it with a staircase, so that it doesn't block the view of the church from the cobblestone street below.

"His parents met in that same parish," she said.

Besides his wife, Boisclair is survived by his daughters Susan Hadley and Colette Boisclair, and his sons, J.R., Derek and Robert.

Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday at the Church of St. Therese, 18323 Minnetonka Blvd., Deephaven. Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday with a prayer service at 7 at the David Lee Funeral Home, 1220 E. Wayzata Blvd., Wayzata, and one hour before mass on Friday at the church. Entombment will be at Gethsemane Mausoleum in New Hope.

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

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