A striking new office building with a sweeping glass facade along West River Road in Minneapolis is inspiring a lot of curiosity.
“People always want to know, ‘Who’s in there? What do they do?’ ” said Jon Frank, chief executive of DC Group, which has occupied the new space only a few months. “And that’s just what we wanted. It’s meant to be a kind of a monument to what we’ve accomplished as a family-owned company and to the city of Minneapolis, which we feel very deeply about.”
Up until now, DC Group, a maker of power supplies, had been a pretty low-profile presence on the southwest corner of West River Road and W. Broadway Avenue. That was understandable when its office was a nondescript, low-slung building built in the 1970s.
But that changed in a big way this spring. The company spent $7.3 million to renovate its building and add a two-level wing to it. Designed by David Miller of UrbanWorks Architecture, the project is highlighted by a curving bank of two-story windows looking on the Mississippi River and the James I. Rice Parkway Trail.
And for those passing by, the building is an eye-catching addition to an area that Minneapolis city planners call the “Broadway Riverfront Node,” one of the most prominent commercial corridors on the city’s North Side. Its presence in effect continues a redevelopment momentum on West River Road that was established by the 2009 opening of the Coloplast U.S. headquarters a bit farther south of the DC building.
Frank says the firm, obtained by his father Stephen Frank in 1991, deserved to make an architectural statement after what it has accomplished: Growing from humble beginnings as a small north Minneapolis electric motor repair shop into one of the nation’s pre-eminent providers of uninterruptible power supplies, which serve as critical backups for data centers operated by corporations, hospitals and governments.
By 2014, the company had grown from 40 to 140 employees and had snared a bevy of Fortune 500 customers, including the likes of AT&T, Kaiser Permanente, Verizon, Microsoft and Oracle. It didn’t make a very good impression having the leaders of such companies conferring with their suppliers of mission-critical services in a bunkerlike setting.
“We’ve created a brand for our company that’s high-tech, and image was definitely part of the decision to expand the headquarters,” Frank said. “But the reason we decided to stay on the North Side, rather than take some offers we had in the suburbs, is that we feel really connected to the city. It’s a part of my family history and our employees’ families, as well. This is where we grew.”
Expanding in place was a more expensive and complicated proposition than moving to the suburbs, but the company had a big political backer in City Council President Barb Johnson, a North Sider who led the charge in securing a $200,000 Grow North city grant and a $451,500 tax increment financing package to support the project.
In return, DC is expected to create 33 new jobs, with 15 of them targeted to neighborhood residents. City leaders set a goal of attracting 1,000 new jobs to the North Side by 2019.
It’s one thing for a company to carry out a functional kind of workplace expansion, but another for it to seek out the kind of quality that Frank chose for his effort. That decision is tied up in an obvious pride he feels in both place and his own legacy.
“I do see this as a testament to what we’ve been able to do,” he said. “I started in the ’90s with basically a backpack and a lot of college debt, and built what has turned into a juggernaut, not only in Minnesota but across the country.
“It took a passion to do things on the cutting edge,” he added.
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer based in St. Paul. He is the former editor of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Real Estate Journal.