An employee patio with an expansive view of the downtown Minneapolis skyline. Industrial finishes and walls of windows. A light-filled gallery primed to showcase a rotation of local artists.
Construction crews worked through the humidity on Friday afternoon to build out the newest multimillion-dollar office building to premiere in Minneapolis. But unlike most that have been erected in recent years, the office complex isn't in one of downtown's trendy neighborhoods or next to a major shopping boulevard.
The four-story, $36 million Regional Acceleration Center (RAC) is under construction on a vacant corner of Plymouth and Penn avenues in north Minneapolis, just a couple of miles from downtown.
The neglected site had been empty for more than 25 years until construction and development firm Thor Cos. decided to build its headquarters on the property and create space for several other businesses.
The development has spearheaded an additional $100 million of investment in the surrounding area, which advocates said is just the beginning of the Near North neighborhood possibly becoming the next North Loop for redevelopment. Thor staff and other tenants will begin to move into the building next month.
Thor CEO Ravi Norman described the site as "ground zero" for reinvestment in the North Side.
"I think it denotes that people see north Minneapolis as an interesting opportunity," Norman said. "This can be a very thriving place."
The modern building clad in metal paneling has a dramatic presence on the corner next to the University of Minnesota's Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center and across the street from the Minneapolis Urban League.
Kitty-corner to RAC is the Estes Funeral Chapel, which will move into a new building across the street. Nonprofit NorthPoint Health and Wellness has plans to complete part of its $67 million expansion on the vacated site.
In addition to Thor, which will occupy about 17,000 square feet of office space in RAC, several other companies will also have a presence. Target Corp. will use a little more than 3,000 square feet for a shared office space and innovation center. Hennepin County will take the top floor, with 36,500 square feet to be occupied by NorthPoint, Hennepin County Health and Human Services and the county corrections department.
The Metropolitan Economic Development Association (Meda), which focuses on helping minority entrepreneurs, is also relocating its headquarters from downtown Minneapolis to RAC.
On the ground level, several retailers also will open including Sammy's Avenue Eatery, a sandwich and coffee cafe with a location on Broadway Avenue; fitness center ME & I; and financial-services nonprofit Build Wealth Minnesota.
"We wanted to be very targeted," said Erin Hayden, a Thor spokeswoman. "This is an area that hasn't seen this kind of investment in 50 years."
For Thor, the state's largest minority-owned business, the new RAC is a reaffirmation of its continuing mission to help build communities.
"I'm hoping that there's this catalytic impact to really making this a very, very sustainable and healthy community, but we want to do it too without saying that the entire community has to be turned over via some kind of gentrification," Norman said.
"We want to make sure that we are creating opportunities for the assets that are already here, for the people who are already here."
Other components to RAC are the multilevel 625-stall parking garage and the Richard A. Copeland Art Gallery and Entrepreneurial Center, named after the Thor Co. founder.
While new office construction has recently slowed down except in popular markets such as the North Loop and Uptown, RAC was made possible by commitments from partners such as Hennepin County, which purchased its space in the building and most of the parking stalls in the new garage.
Target also pushed the project forward with a commitment to be a major lessee and then subleased its space back to Thor and Meda.
A partnership between different stakeholders located on the intersection, including the University of Minnesota, are in active discussions on how to continue the economic momentum in the area, Norman said.
"It really just can't be about building buildings," Norman said.
On Friday, construction workers polished the concrete floors, installed wiring in some of the offices and used a crane to lift furniture to different levels.
Workers had to push through the long winter and the sudden high temperatures earlier this year to keep on schedule. Much of the inside is still in need of finishes, though some spaces hint at their end use, like the red wall in the Target space.
The bright new space is a far cry from the dark and isolated offices Thor occupied in Fridley, where Copeland's trucking company is located. About 50 local Thor workers will be housed in RAC, although there is enough space for about 40 more, Norman said.
Thor Cos. has recently expanded its scope and grown beyond its concrete-contractor beginnings to become a multi-service development firm that includes architectural design, consulting and other services.
"Every single one of our other businesses that we've created around construction all have been in play in this project, so it's great to be able to show people something that is tangible," Norman said.