The North Loop in downtown Minneapolis could soon get a second hotel, and its developers said Thursday it will be one of a kind.
Milwaukee-based Fe Equus Development, which developed the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee, and the Aparium Hotel Group of Chicago plan to convert a historic warehouse into a 120-room hotel with a restaurant and bar that will be "an enclave for locals and appeal to travelers in search of an authentic, one-of-a-kind Minneapolis experience," said Mario Tricoci, Aparium's chief executive and managing partner.
The cordovan-colored brick Jackson Building — at one time a farm implement showroom and warehouse — has been a fortresslike presence at the bustling corner of Washington and 3rd Avenues since the last months of the 19th century.
Most recently, the main floor hosted a music school, but the upper floors remained eerily empty, seemingly untouched since it was a working warehouse.
"It's in rough condition by today's standards," said Alex Haecker, owner of AWH Architects in Minneapolis and an architectural historian on the project. "But you can get a good sense of what it was used for. It's literally like walking back in time."
He said the building's exposed brick walls, wood floors and hefty timber posts and beams are all still intact.
For years, even as the warehouses and parking lots around it have become coffee shops, restaurants and funky offices, the 93,000-square-foot Jackson Building has been vacant and its fate the source of much speculation.
Most recently, M.G. Kaminski and his Wayzata Properties looked into to converting the building to 70 market-rate rental apartments. But those plans fell apart.
On July 31, the building was bought by the joint venture of Fe Equus and Aparium from MinnWest Bank for $4.6 million.
Tim Dixon of Fe Equus, who is working with Twin Cities-based ESG Architects on plans, recently attended a recent North Loop Neighborhood Association meeting to introduce the project to neighbors.
"We love the additional activity the hotel and restaurant will bring to the neighborhood, and of course the investment is a great sign," said David Frank, board president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association. "It is a notable historic building at one of our key intersections, and it's cool to see it come back to life."
The proposal comes at a time when prime redevelopment opportunities are dwindling in that part of the city. Brent Erickson, senior director for Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq, said that competition for sites in the neighborhood is fierce, and that the best buildings have already been redeveloped or have businesses in them that would make renovation difficult.
"This is probably one of the last buildings that's available for such renovations," Erickson said.
Even though several hotels are proposed for other parts of downtown, including a Conrad Hotel in the Plymouth Building, there's only one in the North Loop, a Townplace Suites by Marriott on North 2nd St.
"It's an under-hoteled area right now," Erickson said. "And for a boutique hotel, the building has all the charm and character you'd expect."
Still, renovating a historic building always comes with obstacles and, for this building, the biggest challenge is clear: It has no parking.
Tricoci says that hotel guests are accustomed to valet parking, and that the group is already negotiating with business and parking lot owners for a solution.
To help finance the project, the group plans to apply for historic tax credits, and says they've lined up construction financing. Plans have yet to be submitted to the city, but Tricoci says construction is expected to begin next year in time for a 2016 opening.
Aparium, which manages several hotels including the Iron Horse in Milwaukee, the Hotel Covington in Covington, Ken., and The Charmant Hotel in La Crosse, Wis., will co-own and manage the hotel.
The Iron Horse is in a renovated brick warehouse near the Harley-Davidson Museum in a once-gritty industrial area of Milwaukee. With its funky decor, including sturdy metal coat hoaks designed to handle the weight of a hefty leather biker's jacket, the Iron Horse has been popular with visitors to the museum.
"It's a one-of-a-kind Milwaukee experience," Tricoci said. "We believe that's a true differentiator when we create hotels in various markets. We want this hotel to be a brand in and of itself."
Tricoci hopes to take a similar approach to its North Loop project, though it will not be modeled after the Iron Horse. Tricoci and Dixon want it to have its own identity, which will be tied to the history of the building and neighborhood.
"We're researching how the building was constructed, how it was named and how the North Loop neighborhood was settled," Tricoci said. "We'll incorporate all of that learned information into the design and feel of the property and into the services we offer."