Joel Shapiro, the longtime owner of Shapco Printing in the North Loop, recalls the days when the now-trendy Minneapolis neighborhood was downright "rough."
"It was an armpit," he said recently.
The printing company made its home at the corner of 5th Street and 5th Avenue N. for close to 36 years, but the site will soon become the new home for Be the Match, a nonprofit that promotes bone marrow and umbilical-cord blood transplantation.
About 900 employees will ultimately move into the seven-story office building, across from the renovated Ford Center and the new Target Field Station transit hub, not to mention Target Field itself. Shapco Printing has happily expanded to new and bigger quarters in Golden Valley, and its former home will be demolished later this month once all the festivities related to Major League Baseball's All-Star Game have passed.
The new, $60 million Be the Match headquarters, which is being developed by Bloomington-based United Properties, will bring a flurry of office workers to the North Loop, already bustling with condo- and apartment dwellers and restaurants.
But residents and neighborhood activists have long felt the area lacked a strong daytime presence — the kind of street activity that would bolster the restaurant trade and encourage more retail.
"Having 800-plus office workers in the heart of our neighborhood every day is a good thing," said David Frank, president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association. "The one thing we've been missing is concentrated pockets of employment."
The Ford Center, originally a Ford Model T manufacturing plant, is now fully leased to HGA, an architectural firm, the marketing agency Olson, K-Twin radio and Caldrea housekeeping products, said Bill Katter, executive vice president for United Properties, which owns the building.
Other offices scattered throughout the area include the TractorWorks building on Washington Avenue, which just sold to New York-based Goldman Sachs for $54.8 million. The fact that a large institution like Goldman Sachs bought in the neighborhood is another sign that the area has arrived, Frank noted.
But otherwise, most of the businesses scattered through the North Loop, once home to largely industrial operations and surface parking lots, are fairly small in size.
At a gusty groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, Katter said the new Be the Match home will serve as "a mainstay in the North Loop neighborhood and downtown Minneapolis — and a catalyst for other development in the neighborhood." The project is expected to be completed by late 2015.
United Properties plans to be a big part of that development continuum, too.
In addition to Be the Match's building and the Ford Center, the firm owns the historic Loose-Wiles Building on Washington Avenue and developed Target Field Station. It also plans a mixed-use development on a grassy plot next to Target Field Station that will likely include retail, offices and perhaps a hotel, Katter said.
A big part of the area's draw is easy access to transit, including the Blue and Green Metro Transit light-rail lines and Northstar commuter rail, which converge at the transit hub.
Be the Match outgrew its current space in two buildings off Broadway in northeast Minneapolis, according to Dr. Jeffrey Chell, the group's CEO. "Easy access to mass transit was really important" when searching for new space, he said.
In addition, the organization wants to be in "proximity to a growing and vibrant downtown area, which is important to existing employees and also those in the future we hope to attract," Chell said.
The group will lease the building from United Properties, a Pohlad family company. Members of the Minnesota Twins organization, also owned by the Pohlads, were on hand to note Be the Match's milestone. The nonprofit is a community partner with the team, an agreement that includes marketing and branding opportunities.
The city received $1.4 million in grant money from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, Hennepin County, and the Met Council to help clean up and redevelop the Shapco Printing site. An entity associated with United Properties bought the site for $6.98 million last month, according to Hennepin County property records.
Shapco Printing's Shapiro said it was increasingly challenging to do business in an area that had changed so much. "There was nothing but construction all around us; it made it more difficult to do business," he said.
The firm, which employs 120 people, invested $6 million to renovate its new building, for moving expenses and buying new equipment, he said. All told, he's pleased with the way things turned out. "It will be a beautiful new building [for Be the Match]," Shapiro said. "I'm happy for them. The area is really blossoming."