LifeSource, the regional nonprofit that procures organs and tissues for transplants, has maintained a relatively low profile while going about its difficult and emotional business of organ donation.
But that's going to soon change as it implements plans to construct an $18.7 million, 40,000-square-foot headquarters building and memorial garden on 4.8 acres along the Mississippi riverfront in Minneapolis.
Groundbreaking for the new structure at 2225 West River Road, now the site of an older office-warehouse building and a vacant lot, is set for Sept. 25 after LifeSource succeeded in lining up state and Hennepin County brownfield grants to help remediate the area, which was once used by railroads.
LifeSource CEO Susan Gunderson says the move from its leased space in St. Paul marks a long-awaited evolution for the group, which is the sole federally designated organization in Minnesota and the Dakotas that finds organ donors, matches them with waiting recipients and manages the surgical recovery teams.
"This is a really unique chance for us to find our own home and have our own space," Gunderson said. "We serve the 6 million people who live in our three states, and a large part of our work is encouraging people to be donors."
As much as the new building is meant to provide an owner-occupied home for LifeSource's growing workforce of nearly 125 employees, it's also about establishing a permanent gathering place for the community of organ donors and recipients to share and reflect on their traumatic experiences.
Gunderson said that will be accomplished by providing a space for services for the organ donors, which are now carried out in the surgical suites of the 300 hospitals LifeSource works with, as well through its future crown jewel — a memorial garden with views of the Mississippi River designed by Minneapolis-based landscape architects Coen + Partners.
"We want to be able to honor their decisions to give the gift of life in a very visible and tangible way," she said. "That was one of the real draws about the riverfront property. We're planning to have a very meaningful garden."
Some of the group's clinical activities will also be carried out in medical space within the building, though not the transplants themselves, which will continue to be performed in hospitals. This is a "best practices" move to improve the efficiency of its services, as well to strengthen the quality of tissue recovery and help control costs, she said.
Peter Farstad, LifeSource's chief administrative officer, said the process of looking for a permanent home began in 2010 when the nonprofit teamed with Cresa Partners to find a suitable site.
"We reviewed about 45 sites, toured 15 to 20 of them, and finally settled on the River Road site," he said.
It's an area covered by the city of Minneapolis' recently updated Above the Falls master plan, which calls for continuous park frontage, housing and job growth along both sides of the river in formerly industrial areas from Plymouth Avenue to the Camden Bridge.
Indicative of the city's support of the building, it approved financing through the issuance of $13 million in revenue bonds through its Common Bond fund, while LifeSource is committing $5.8 million in equity.
"We explored several different financing options, and the city has been great to work with," Farstad said.
The site plan, developed by RSP Architects, orients the building's windows and the tribute garden toward the river with parking in the rear, consistent with the Above the Falls guidelines.
It features modern, clean lines, but also succeeds in being warm and welcoming, he said, adding, "We want it to be a healing presence for donor family members, and also for our staff, who are engaged in very difficult and challenging work."
Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal. He has covered Twin Cities commercial real estate for about a decade.