Soo Line Building welcomes first tenants in downtown Minneapolis

  • Article by: JIM BUCHTA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2013 - 9:58 AM

The first residents are moving into apartments in the rehabbed building.

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A massive — and expensive — renovation has restored the historic Soo Line building to its former glory in downtown Minneapolis, demolishing its rabbit-warren offices and turning the space into upscale apartments. Residents are moving in even as crews add finishing touches.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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It was once the tallest office building to light the downtown Minneapolis skyline. Today the Soo Line is the city’s newest luxury apartment building.

After a yearlong renovation that included gutting the interior and restoring the exterior, the first residents are moving in.

“We just kept the shell,” said Stefanie Balsis, regional sales and marketing director for Village Green, the building’s developer, noting that all of the mechanicals, including plumbing and electricity, have been replaced and that the building received a Green designation by the National Association of Home Builders.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building at 5th and Marquette was designed by Robert Gibson, a Beaux-Arts master who designed a Vanderbilt family mansion that’s now the posh Fifth Avenue Cartier store in New York City. In its heyday, the Soo Line featured glimmering marble floors, mahogany trim and an ornately carved ceiling in a second-floor banking hall with 20-foot ceilings and arch-topped windows.

But when Jonathan Holtz­man, CEO of Michigan-based Village Green, first laid eyes on the building several years ago, little of that historic grandeur had been retained. During a 1960s remodeling, the building had been chopped into small offices with dropped ceilings and carpeting that had been glued to the white Carrera marble floors.

Village Green restored those once-soaring lobbies in a more modern way by demolishing ceilings to create a dramatic three-story lobby/atrium with a floating glass stairway that connects the ground-floor lobby to second-floor offices and the skyway system.

“What we’re offering at Soo Line Building City Apartments represents the best in contemporary thinking,” Holtzman said.

Indeed, the lobbies, hallways and apartments now bear an eclectic modern style that’s become synonymous with other Village Green buildings, but a few hints of the building’s former glory remain. Brass mail chutes next to the elevators on every floor have been polished and restored. Where possible, elaborate carved ceiling trim was restored. And the glued-down carpeting was ripped up to reveal the marble floors.

“By transforming a historic building into a mixed-use luxury rental community, restoring existing architecture and preserving features and materials — that combination of new and existing materials creates a truly green building,” Holtzman said.

The building received the National Association of Home Builder’s Green Building Standard designation in part because of its new energy-efficient heating and cooling system.

The company bought the building in 2011 for $11.3 million, but Holtzman won’t say how much the renovation cost. Building permits issued by the city put the value of some of the remodeling and conversion work at more than $30 million. The demolition permit alone was for more than $2.2 million, and at least $2.5 million was spent to remodel the facade.

The white limestone high-rise has long been regarded as the city’s best Beaux-Arts skyscraper, but its conversion to housing isn’t unique. All across the city, developers are getting state and federal tax credits to help finance the transformation of often-neglected office and warehouse buildings into housing.

The Soo Line building also represents an unusual opportunity to live in a part of downtown that was once a flyover zone for housing developers. The 254-unit building is the first of three towers in a two-block area that is expected to bring hundreds of residents to downtown’s Central Business District during the next couple of years. Rent prices in the building range from just over $1,000 for a 459 square-foot studio apartment to more than $4,000 for a 2,000 square-foot penthouse.

“We’re entering a new era for downtown,” said Gina Dingman, with NAI Everest Advisors.

Dingman said that while renovations like this one can be extremely expensive, such restorations are good for the city, and they offer developers like Village Green a competitive edge.

“They know what renters want and they’ve kept the historic appeal,” Dingman said. “It’s a really nice contrast.”

Residents have begun moving in, even while crews are still putting the finishing touches on a rooftop “Sky Park,” which will be decked out with a grilling area and an indoor pool with an airplane hangar door at one end that can be opened on warm summer days. And there’s to be a restaurant and a gourmet grocery on the main level, as well.

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  • A massive — and expensive — renovation has restored the historic Soo Line building to its former glory in downtown Minneapolis, demolishing its rabbit-warren offices and turning the space into upscale apartments. Residents are moving in even as crews add finishing touches.

  • Skyway level of the lobby in the Soo Line building in downtown Minneapolis. A massive - and ultra-expensive - renovation aimed at restoring the historic Soo Line building and converting its former rabbits-warren of offices into chic, modern apartments, is now complete. Residents are now moving in, and crews are putting the finishing touches on the project, which was aimed at restoring the building to its former glory. Photographed on 11/20/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune bbisping@startribune.com

  • Exterior of the Soo Line building in downtown Minneapolis. A massive - and ultra-expensive - renovation aimed at restoring the historic Soo Line building and converting its former rabbits-warren of offices into chic, modern apartments, is now complete. Residents are now moving in, and crews are putting the finishing touches on the project, which was aimed at restoring the building to its former glory. Photographed on 11/20/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune bbisping@startribune.com

  • Lobby of the Soo Line building in downtown Minneapolis. A massive - and ultra-expensive - renovation aimed at restoring the historic Soo Line building and converting its former rabbits-warren of offices into chic, modern apartments, is now complete. Residents are now moving in, and crews are putting the finishing touches on the project, which was aimed at restoring the building to its former glory. Photographed on 11/20/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune bbisping@startribune.com

  • Model apartment in the Soo Line building in downtown Minneapolis. A massive - and ultra-expensive - renovation aimed at restoring the historic Soo Line building and converting its former rabbits-warren of offices into chic, modern apartments, is now complete. Residents are now moving in, and crews are putting the finishing touches on the project, which was aimed at restoring the building to its former glory. Photographed on 11/20/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune bbisping@startribune.com

  • This model unit in the 19-story Soo Line Building City Apartments in downtown Minneapolis shows some of the amenities that have been included during the renovation of the historic office building, which was built in 1915.

  • Model apartment in the Soo Line building in downtown Minneapolis. A massive - and ultra-expensive - renovation aimed at restoring the historic Soo Line building and converting its former rabbits-warren of offices into chic, modern apartments, is now complete. Residents are now moving in, and crews are putting the finishing touches on the project, which was aimed at restoring the building to its former glory. Photographed on 11/20/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune bbisping@startribune.com

  • Model apartment in the Soo Line building in downtown Minneapolis. A massive - and ultra-expensive - renovation aimed at restoring the historic Soo Line building and converting its former rabbits-warren of offices into chic, modern apartments, is now complete. Residents are now moving in, and crews are putting the finishing touches on the project, which was aimed at restoring the building to its former glory. Photographed on 11/20/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune bbisping@startribune.com ORG XMIT: MIN1311201737340678

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