By DON JACOBSON • Special to the Star Tribune
In a nod to both the city's history and future, Minneapolis marketing agency owner Scott Petinga plans to make a statement with a recently approved office-retail building to be constructed in the North Loop.
Petinga's growing Akquracy agency and other ventures will take up the office space in the 16,300-square-foot structure, to be named the Bickford in honor of the original 1850s settler. The three-story building will be at the corner of 5th Avenue N. and 4th Street.
But while he feels personally drawn to the history of the neighborhood, Petinga also says his $4 million project — a modern, green-certified mix of office, retail and coffee shop — is a substantial investment in the North Loop's future as a creative industry hotbed.
"I love the whole creative feel of what the North Loop is becoming," the 39-year-old cancer survivor said. "The way I look at it, it's the new creative powerhouse."
With the Olson advertising agency's move last year to the nearby Ford Center and the emerging presences of other creative firms, many of them located along Washington Avenue N., Petinga said the decision to remain in the trendy neighborhood was "an easy one."
Akquracy posted $6.1 million in sales in 2011, an increase of more than 200 percent over three years, earning it a spot on Inc. magazine's 2012 list of the country's fastest-growing private companies. It was ranked as the 20th-fastest growing Minneapolis-area firm. Petinga said in October that sales for Akquracy's data-driven marketing strategies were up 44 percent in 2012.
When the decision was made to move from the firm's current location at 800 Washington Av. N., Petinga said he first considered leasing space but couldn't find anything he wanted. Then, however, he passed by a vacant lot adjoining the Bookman Stacks condominiums, saw it was for sale, and decided, "I need to have it."
Petinga's company the Neat Pig Group purchased the property at 506 N. 4th St. for $425,000 in September, Hennepin County records indicate, and the entrepreneur quickly delved into the spot's history.
In 2004 it was meant to host a sit-down restaurant as part of the condominium project, an idea that never materialized. But it has been vacant for much longer, stretching back more than 70 years.
"I'm a firm believer in fate," he said. "The year the restaurant was proposed was the year I was diagnosed with cancer. And I also felt a correlation in the naming of the building the Bickford."
Like Petinga, David Bickford, who laid claim to much of what is now the North Loop in 1856 as a part of the first wave of settlers in the city, was a New Englander who came to the Midwest looking for opportunity.
And like Akquracy's Atlantic City-born owner, Bickford hailed from New Jersey.
"He later moved back to South Jersey, where I'm from," he said. "I realized we had a lot similarities between us and I had to put his name on the building."
The building itself, however, will be anything but an homage to David Bickford's era. It will feature a striking modern design and an array of environmentally friendly features such as a green roof, solar energy panels, geothermal heating and cooling, underground stormwater retention, green building materials and electronically tintable glass windows.
The energy-efficiency features, Petinga said, will reduce the annual heating, cooling and lighting costs of the building from $50,000 to $10,000.
"It's going to be one of the most technically advanced buildings not only in the Midwest, but in a lot of the major metros," he predicted.
City planning studies call for 5th Avenue to serve as a connector between Target Field and Washington Avenue, and thus encourage retail storefronts to face it. But, one of the reasons the parcel has remained vacant for so many decades is poor soil conditions along that side of the lot.
In a compromise with planners, Petinga's new Steam coffee shop will instead face the 4th Street side.
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul.