Former Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters in NE. Minneapolis.


Former Minneapolis school headquarters draws developers

  • Article by: Steve Brandt
  • Star Tribune
  • March 23, 2013 - 9:31 PM

School employees couldn’t wait to move out of their rattrap headquarters in northeast Minneapolis. Developers can’t wait to get at the vintage building.

Seven teams have submitted proposals to rework the huge former light bulb factory, just off the corner of Broadway and Central. They range from creating entirely commercial space to all housing. But a neighborhood task force is backing three proposals that create room for small businesses to grow jobs. Those three come from developers that have rehabbed nearby buildings.

City development experts are analyzing the competing offers. In late April or May, the school board is expected to pick the development firm, then start negotiating a purchase agreement. The finances of the offers have been kept secret.

One big issue looming over potentially the second sale of a Minneapolis school building this year is whether the community’s voice will be heeded. The board earlier this month overrode a neighborhood group’s recommendation that a South Side school be sold to a developer for senior housing.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Pat Vogel, a co-chair of the 807 Broadway task force, named after the address of the headquarters vacated by the district last summer for a new building at 1250 Broadway. The group wants the district to forgo taking the best financial offer in favor of long-term jobs.

Jenny Arneson said she doesn’t think the two pending sales of school property are comparable. The school board member elected from the city’s East Side noted there’s no school involved this time. That’s unlike the former Northrop school property at 1611 E. 46th St. The board voted to sell that school for an expanding charter school network although a competing offer was higher and would have created tax base.

Environmental concerns

The 807 building, at more than 236,000 square feet of space on the equivalent of more than a city block, is a large canvas for a developer. But it also poses risks from the potential costs of dealing with contamination from asbestos, mercury and lead because of its history as a factory. The parking lot is laid over a bed of asbestos-laden vermiculite, according to the state.

The brick shell of the original 1914 building and its additions are likely to be gutted by would-be developers. Most would keep a roomy garage, but some would tear down flimsier outbuildings on the north end. Most pledge to keep the parking lot across NE. Quincy Street, as sought by neighbors to avoid parking problems, and to convert for community use a courtyard once used for parking.

The task force made clear that it doesn’t favor creating housing at 807. It’s looking for job-adding uses to offset the hundreds of jobs lost to the North Side when the district moved away.

Based on recent sales nearby, the property could attract offers in the $2 million to $3 million range for commercial use, and much higher for residential plans. The district has pledged to use the proceeds to retire debt on the new headquarters.

Some teams familiar with area

That favors proposals by First & First, Kremer & Young and Hillcrest Development, all of which would create multi-tenant commercial space and have done projects in the area. Hillcrest has converted more than 3 million square feet through commercial rehab since 1989, including more than 325,000 square feet in five projects within a few block of the headquarters building.

“You never say you’ve seen it all … but we have done some very very challenging projects environmentally,” said Hillcrest managing partner Scott Tankenoff. That includes renovating former battery and linseed factories. The task force noted that Hillcrest brings the advantage of self-financing its ventures.

Kremer & Young was one of the early northeast Minneapolis players in rehab of industrial buildings for creative purposes with its early 1990s conversion of the California Building to artist studios. That was followed by 2006 similar conversion of the Northwestern Casket building three blocks from 807. The firm was supported at a community presentation last week by an enthusiastic coterie of artist tenants. First & First is doing an even closer renovation at Broadway and Central, one of two projects in the area, and touted the LEED platinum certification it helped to obtain on a city building renovation. Other firms making proposals were Dominion, Freco, Sherman Associates and Domain.

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