It was once the tallest office building to light the downtown Minneapolis skyline. Today the Soo Line is the city’s newest luxury apartment building.
After a yearlong renovation that included gutting the interior and restoring the exterior, the first residents are moving in.
“We just kept the shell,” said Stefanie Balsis, regional sales and marketing director for Village Green, the building’s developer, noting that all of the mechanicals, including plumbing and electricity, have been replaced and that the building received a Green designation by the National Association of Home Builders.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building at 5th and Marquette was designed by Robert Gibson, a Beaux-Arts master who designed a Vanderbilt family mansion that’s now the posh Fifth Avenue Cartier store in New York City. In its heyday, the Soo Line featured glimmering marble floors, mahogany trim and an ornately carved ceiling in a second-floor banking hall with 20-foot ceilings and arch-topped windows.
But when Jonathan Holtzman, CEO of Michigan-based Village Green, first laid eyes on the building several years ago, little of that historic grandeur had been retained. During a 1960s remodeling, the building had been chopped into small offices with dropped ceilings and carpeting that had been glued to the white Carrera marble floors.
Village Green restored those once-soaring lobbies in a more modern way by demolishing ceilings to create a dramatic three-story lobby/atrium with a floating glass stairway that connects the ground-floor lobby to second-floor offices and the skyway system.
“What we’re offering at Soo Line Building City Apartments represents the best in contemporary thinking,” Holtzman said.
Indeed, the lobbies, hallways and apartments now bear an eclectic modern style that’s become synonymous with other Village Green buildings, but a few hints of the building’s former glory remain. Brass mail chutes next to the elevators on every floor have been polished and restored. Where possible, elaborate carved ceiling trim was restored. And the glued-down carpeting was ripped up to reveal the marble floors.
“By transforming a historic building into a mixed-use luxury rental community, restoring existing architecture and preserving features and materials — that combination of new and existing materials creates a truly green building,” Holtzman said.
The building received the National Association of Home Builder’s Green Building Standard designation in part because of its new energy-efficient heating and cooling system.
The company bought the building in 2011 for $11.3 million, but Holtzman won’t say how much the renovation cost. Building permits issued by the city put the value of some of the remodeling and conversion work at more than $30 million. The demolition permit alone was for more than $2.2 million, and at least $2.5 million was spent to remodel the facade.
The white limestone high-rise has long been regarded as the city’s best Beaux-Arts skyscraper, but its conversion to housing isn’t unique. All across the city, developers are getting state and federal tax credits to help finance the transformation of often-neglected office and warehouse buildings into housing.
The Soo Line building also represents an unusual opportunity to live in a part of downtown that was once a flyover zone for housing developers. The 254-unit building is the first of three towers in a two-block area that is expected to bring hundreds of residents to downtown’s Central Business District during the next couple of years. Rent prices in the building range from just over $1,000 for a 459 square-foot studio apartment to more than $4,000 for a 2,000 square-foot penthouse.
“We’re entering a new era for downtown,” said Gina Dingman, with NAI Everest Advisors.
Dingman said that while renovations like this one can be extremely expensive, such restorations are good for the city, and they offer developers like Village Green a competitive edge.
“They know what renters want and they’ve kept the historic appeal,” Dingman said. “It’s a really nice contrast.”
Residents have begun moving in, even while crews are still putting the finishing touches on a rooftop “Sky Park,” which will be decked out with a grilling area and an indoor pool with an airplane hangar door at one end that can be opened on warm summer days. And there’s to be a restaurant and a gourmet grocery on the main level, as well.
Such hotel-style amenities were a big draw for Erik Pfeifer, a 30-year-old accounting manager who had been living and working in Worthington, Minn. He signed up for a one-bedroom apartment several months ago when he took a job with a company in the nearby North Loop neighborhood, and his corner apartment on the 16th floor has several windows with dazzling skyline views.
“I wanted to be where the action is,” said Pfeifer. “I was five years in southwest Minnesota, where not much happens, and I wanted to be where everything is happening in a historic building right in the heart of downtown.”
Pfeifer represents exactly the demographic Village Green and other developers are hoping to attract. He walks to work, and is excited to meet other urban dwellers in his new vertical neighborhood. The building’s unique character was a big draw, as well.
“What I found appealing is that it’s a historic building,” he said. “But it’s been completely redone and you have modern finishes.”