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Continued: Inside track: Thanksgiving fire marked a beginning for Faegre

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 24, 2012 - 8:39 PM

Thirty years ago this weekend, the Minneapolis law firm then known as Faegre & Benson was scrambling to set up new offices for its 120-lawyer firm after a devastating Thanksgiving Day fire destroyed its offices in the Northwestern National Bank Building.

The fire could have been catastrophic to the firm, which occupied three of the 17 floors in the building.

"But we got lucky," said longtime Faegre partner and onetime firm chairman Tom Morgan. "There were vacant floors in the IDS Center, and our client mix included IBM, Dayton's interior design division and the phone company. By Monday morning everybody had either a table or a desk and a phone with their direct dial number, and we had a mainframe computer.

"If you were going to have a fire, 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving was a good time to have it, because that gave you a nice long weekend," Morgan said.

Morgan got news of the devastating fire as he was sitting down to a late Thanksgiving dinner. As he rushed downtown on I-35W, he could see the Minneapolis skyline ablaze. "It was the kind of fire you see in movies," Morgan recalled in an interview last week.

The law firm's loss was huge in terms of client files, which were paper in those days. Its entire law library was destroyed, and the contents of most offices burned to ash. Faegre, now known as Faegre Baker Daniels, had to reconstruct cases and transactions with the help of opposing counsel and their files and the files held off-site by clients in their own offices.

Fortunately, the firm's accounting and time records were on a computer -- basically the only salvageable data. "Had we lost that, it would have been catastrophic," Morgan said.

The fire had its origins next door at the site of the old Donaldsons department store -- today's Gaviidae Common -- which was being demolished. It spread quickly to the Northwestern National Bank Building and climbed to the upper floors before firefighters could contain it.

"Fire Rages in Heart of City," screamed the Star and Tribune's first-edition headline.

With computers, laptops, electronic records and servers located away from the main law firm office, a large-scale fire would not have the same impact today.

"In many ways, that fire marked the beginning of the modern era for law firms," Morgan said. After stints in the IDS Center and then the Multifoods Tower, Faegre returned in 1988 to its old address on Marquette between 6th and 7th streets to what is now the Wells Fargo Center. With 320 lawyers in its Minneapolis office, FaegreBD occupies 13 floors.

DAVID PHELPS

RETHINKING, REUSING, RECYCLING

A modest equipment investment by Warners' Stellian several years ago has led to long-term savings of up to $3,000 a month on garbage bills for the eight-store appliance retailer. The "Styrofoam Densifier" can compact a semitrailer load of Styrofoam down to the size of a pallet, a 20:1 ratio. Warners' also makes money recycling cardboard, old appliances and a lot more that once was considered "garbage."

A. Johnson & Sons Florist in St. Paul is saving $600 a month on bills by composting organic materials and recycling. The result is fewer trash pickups.

These are poster-child businesses for Rethink Recycling, a comprehensive guide designed to help local businesses save money and conserve.

"This guide pairs reducing waste with a few other smart techniques that mean savings for businesses and improves their long-term impact on the communities they serve through conserving resources," said Amy Ulbricht, business communications manager for Rethink Recycling. Why pay the tipping fee at the dump or incinerator when your garbage can become feedstock for other companies?

The website RethinkRecycling .com is the latest business-and-consumer outreach campaign by the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties. The guide includes ways to educate employees, reduce waste and recycle up to 60 materials, from cardboard, plastic and batteries to electronics, office equipment and fluorescent lights.

SHORT TAKES

U.S. Bank, which has been expanding its commercial real estate book of business, recently disclosed the financing behind a couple of big residential projects in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Minneapolis-based bank will provide $90 million in financing for the Soo Line Building City Apartments, 254 luxury apartments, a restaurant and more in the historic headquarters of the railroad that's now part of Canadian Pacific. The U.S. Bank credit includes $40 million construction loan, a bridge loan and $23 million in federal and state historic tax credits through its community-development subsidiary. Village Green, which operates 12 Minneapolis complexes, is the owner-manager of the building.

Meanwhile, U.S. Bank and Dominion, the Plymouth-based developer, have closed on a $48.2 million construction loan and $24.3 million letter of credit to finance the Schmidt Brewery Artist Lofts, a reuse of the long-vacant Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul's growing West Seventh neighborhood.

Union Restaurant and Rooftop has opened as part of the $3 million-plus refurbishment of the five-year-vacant Shinders building on 8th Street and Hennepin Avenue S. Design firm Shea, the other tenant, partnered with Kaskaid Hospitality to create an interesting mix of office and restaurant space. Union Restaurant includes a first floor bar and restaurant, a first-in-the-neighborhood retractable rooftop with a bar and 175 seats, and Marquee, a lower-level lounge.

The main-level bar and restaurant "intimately integrates a kitchen and dining room feel by showcasing the theater of the cooking along with custom raw steel built-in kitchen shelves to provide a separation, but visual openness between bar and dining room," according to the Union Restaurant folks. The fare will be seasonal American with a dash of snow if somebody forgets to close the roof.

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