With news surfacing recently about a 20-story office tower proposed for across from Target Field, it appears interest is perking up in commercial real estate circles for top-of-the line office space in the city's North Loop neighborhood.
Long home to hipster lofts, condos and restaurants, development of Class A office space has lagged somewhat in the burgeoning area. But Houston-based Hines, a global real estate developer, is pitching an office tower of that ilk called 350 North Fifth for a spot adjacent to the home of the Minnesota Twins.
If developed, the glassy tower will sit about a half-block away from the newly renovated Ford Center, a former Model-T plant that is owned by Bloomington-based United Properties. Following a $40 million renovation, Ford Center's Class A space is now home to six companies and is almost totally leased.
"There's a vibrancy to that neighborhood, a vibe with a little bit of an edge," said Jim Montez, senior director of Brokerage Services for Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq, who was involved in leasing the Ford Center space.
An affiliate of Hines bought a 6-acre swath of North Loop land in July for $13.7 million, according to Hennepin County property records. The site, bordered by N. 5th Street, 3rd Avenue N., Washington Avenue, the Northstar Rail Line and the Cedar Lake Trail, is made up largely of surface parking lots and the vintage Union Plaza and Minikahda Storage buildings. It is also near the proposed $79.3 million light-rail transit hub and public park next to Target Field -- a site on which Hennepin County officials envision an amphitheater and public space with restaurants and bars on a plaza and a station at the confluence of five commuter lines.
Hines, already one of the largest property owners and managers in downtown Minneapolis, has envisioned residential and commercial uses for its strategically located spot that they've called North Loop Green. Already construction crews are busy moving earth to make way for the 185-unit Dock Street Apartments complex, part of the Hines project.
About a year ago, Hines contracted with the Connecticut-based architectural firm Pickard Chilton to create a conceptual design for the office building. "We've studied various concepts looking at how we should use the site," said Hines director Bob Pfefferle, who noted that the office building is "still very conceptual."
With a design for a new 490,000-square-foot office tower in the mix, the company is now looking for tenants to lease the space. And while Pickard Chilton renderings indicate that the building will open in 2015, Pfefferle demured when asked about a timeline for the project.
North Loop advocates say the addition of more office space could attract people to the neighborhood during the day, when many residents are at work. "The reason we like office development is because we're all about bringing more people to the neighborhood -- they're spending money, they're walking around," said David Frank, president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association. The group says the area had about 4,300 residents in 2010, a figure that had tripled since 2000.
Traditionally, office space in the North Loop "has always been smaller-scale, Class B or C, some involving small warehouse conversions. Class A space is definitely a new development," Frank said. (Class A space represents the highest-quality buildings in the market; Class B is a notch down, and Class C offices are generally in older buildings.)
Montez said the North Loop office market differs from the city's central business district because many of the area's buildings are unique, and not cookie-cutter office towers. Baby boomers may desire a corner office with a view, but millennials generally prefer open and collaborative work spaces. "You have to have space that is attractive to multiple generations, and places like the Ford Center offer that," he said.
Another perk, he noted, is the easy access to all forms of transit -- with the availability of public parking garages, commuter and light rail, bicycle and pedestrian paths.
"It seems like this neighborhood attracted the residents first, and then the offices," said Fritz Kroll, a North Loop resident active in the Neighborhood Association who has a "two-block commute" to his Edina Realty office.
"I'm seeing a ton of people in our neighborhood now. Our rush hour traffic is on the sidewalk."
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752