Here’s your chance to live inside a piece of local history — a hunk of downtown skyway, to be specific.
There are a few caveats. First you’ll have to move it, and convert it to a livable home. But there’s a cash bonus — and a very motivated seller.
After nearly a decade of trying to sell an 83-foot decommissioned skyway that was designed by a noted architect, Bob Ganser and Ben Awes of CityDeskStudio are ready to give it away.
They’ll do even better than that.
The architects are willing to pay someone $5,000 to haul it away, and hopefully transform it into something useful again — maybe a one-of-a-kind weekend getaway, or a Pronto Pup stand at the Minnesota State Fair.
The ultimate goal is to save it from the scrap heap.
“It is a piece of Minneapolis history,” said Awes. “To demolish it would be a significant waste of resources, the waste of an object that is both extremely practical and has tremendous creative potential.”
Though it’s not the oldest or most acclaimed skyway that ever spanned a downtown Minneapolis street, according to local historian Elizabeth Gales, the skyway was designed by Ed Baker, an architect of international repute who is considered the designer of the city’s first skyway system. And it’s a structure of incomparable integrity. The 280,000-pound behemoth was engineered to bridge a busy city street without support or sagging.
The saga of the grounded skyway, which once ferried shoppers in climate-controlled comfort over S. 5th Street between the J.C. Penney and Powers stores in downtown Minneapolis, began more than a decade ago when the Powers store was demolished, leaving the abandoned skyway perilously projecting over 5th Street.
When work began on the 5th Street LRT line in 2002, the University of Minnesota bought the skyway to nowhere for $1. Plans to repurpose the elegant network of zigzagging steel tubes and trusses never materialized, and in 2006, CityDeskStudio bought it for $5,000 at a blind auction and wheeled it to a weed-strewn field near the U’s Twin Cities campus.
The firm set about envisioning a new life for the steel-girdered structure, and the sky was the limit. Artful color renderings depicted the structure as a glassy two-bedroom timeshare getaway cantilevered off a hillside along the rocky shores of Lake Superior, a shelter along the Nicollet Mall and a fully enclosed dock projecting from the shores of one of the city’s lakes.
In 2009, CityDeskStudio posted an ad for the skyway on Craigslist, offering the 1,380-square-foot structure for $79,500. The ad went viral, but still no takers, so they dropped the price to $49,500.
“We’ve had more proposals, inquiries and exciting conversations than we could count,” said Ganser.
There were four or five serious possibilities, including converting the skyway into a rental retreat near Brainerd, a nonprofit career-training program in north Minneapolis and a rooftop studio space/artist loft in south Minneapolis.
Some of the ideas weren’t so serious. Someone suggested a nightclub on wheels, and just last week the duo received a proposal to turn it into a “sweet-ass mobile deer stand, complete with repurposed tank track wheels and a gun turret,” Ganser said. “This idea included the use of our finder’s fee to pay for gas and ‘a bunch of coolers of Bud.’ ”
In the end, no one has been willing to make the investment, and the skyway remains in that weed-strewn field. Several of the window walls have been broken, and there’s a hole in the roof.
The biggest obstacle to finding a permanent home for the skyway has been the cost of relocation. The structure, strong enough to span a downtown Minneapolis street, has the strength to become its own travel trailer, but it’s also heavy and tall. Busting out and removing its 12-inch-thick poured concrete floor would help lighten the load significantly, but moving it even a short distance could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The architects say the most practical possibility is to repurpose it on or near its existing site, perhaps along SE. 4th Street near the U Transit Way as part of the Greening 4th initiative in Prospect Park.
With CityDeskStudio paying to lease the land where the skyway is currently moored, the clock is ticking on efforts to find a new home for it.
Gales, an architectural historian with Hess Roise Consultants, thinks the best re-use might be as a bridge, given the structure’s heft. Whether the structure is repurposed as a weekend getaway or a hulking rusty lawn ornament is up to its new owner.
“The only condition is that the property is not somehow damaged during the move, and we get our deposit back from the city of Minneapolis,” said Ganser. “Or it will be demolished and salvaged for parts or for scrap.”