A small army of contractors raced into Thrivent's new Minneapolis headquarters Tuesday to finish the floating staircase, insulate walls, install a run of whiteboards and hang hundreds of art pieces in time to welcome 900 employees back to the office by January.
The company, a nonprofit financial services organization with more than $152 billion in assets under management, said it will keep its financial planners, insurance agents and other workers home until at least January in an abundance of caution as the pandemic rages.
Meanwhile, its shiny gem sits largely empty.
"It will be really exciting to get in here," Thrivent communications director Callie Briese said last week as she looked around the expansive lobby that sports 18 different seating areas and a hidden chapel. "This is my first time seeing this."
The last time workers were "in the office," they were at the old 1981 red glass headquarters up the street, a structure that has been sold to Hennepin County for $55 million.
Today, a new, airy, eight-story glass-and-stone building at 600 S. Portland Av. awaits employees' return. It offers 264,000 square feet of open work spaces plus a cadre of amenities such as underground parking, a credit union, coffee shop, oval chapel, library and a towering lobby with dangling lights.
The atrium's suspended and glass-encased staircase tower stops the show. "It makes you a little dizzy," said Briese, gazing up the open core that is lit to dramatic effect for all eight stories.
Beyond security turnstiles, employees will have a gym, sprawling breakrooms dubbed "front porches," and a 60-piece art gallery complete with rotating works dating from the 13th century to modern day. The company's 1,300-piece art collection includes Rembrandt's 1634 etched printing plate for "The Angel."
The chapel and religious art collection are holdovers from when Thrivent was called Lutheran Brotherhood and catered mainly to Christians. Today, it has broadened its reach and recently rebranded with a new logo and message that it is a full-bodied financial services firm looking to do good in the world. The rebranding and new building launch are unfolding at the same time.
"I'm really excited to get people in here," said Thrivent real estate director Eric Merriman while showing visitors around. "This has been my only project for the last three years. ... Right now, this is all closed because everything is digital" and everyone is home due to the virus.
But come January, the building and its tree-strewn pocket park, second-story balcony, rooftop terrace with fireplace and covered drop-off zone will officially open. After 2½ years of construction, the public can enter the expansive lobby, grab a cup of joe, shuffle through its skyways and take in the gallery (by appointment). The airy space is enclosed in bird-proof glass and peeks onto the Armory across the street and the nearby U.S. Bank Stadium and park.
The $125 million project, designed by Minneapolis-based HGA Architects and built by McGough Construction, is the latest building to rise downtown, said John Breitinger, who oversees Cushman & Wakefield's Minneapolis Real Estate Development Advisory practice. Thrivent has asked him to find a buyer for its new beauty, and plans to lease back the building for 20 years.
"This will go pretty quickly," Breitinger said.
"The craftsmanship that went into the design and construction of the open stairwell is beautiful," he said. "On a national basis this is considered a very, very desirable and high quality and fairly rare find. Thrivent took all the risk and self-developed. So it's a little bit backwards from the norm. Only the strongest tenants can operate this way. They have to have the capacity to do this on their balance sheet."
The long lease, location and design, he said, will be attractive to prospective buyers, who like Thrivent's proximity to U.S. Bank Stadium, the park, Wells Fargo's twin towers, light rail, and about 10 new apartment buildings. The new Sora apartments on 6th Street connect to Thrivent via skyway.
The sale will let Thrivent recoup the $125 million it spent on construction plus $5 million from selling the land.
"Really what it does is it gives us the ability to redeploy the capital we invested in this building. It will help us to invest in, grow and serve more clients, said Kirsten Spreck, Thrivent vice president of workforce experience.
Thrivent, which will manage the building after the sale, isn't going anywhere, she said, emphasizing that the decision to sell is unrelated to the city's recent troubles. The idea of sale/lease-back was "explored long before the civil unrest" that began in May with the police killing of George Floyd, Spreck said. "The decision [to sell] had nothing to do with the unrest downtown or the safety concerns."
Breitinger doesn't expect city safety issues to hinder a sale. "Downtown Minneapolis is still seen as a safe bet by institutional real estate investors, given the diversity of our [institutions] and the quality of our workforce," he said.
Commercial real estate pros said the Thrivent's new building and lease plans are the latest good news for downtown, which recently won a commitment from Deluxe Corp. to move its headquarters from Shoreview to the former TCF headquarters in Minneapolis in 2021. Separately, Principal Financial agreed to lease 45,500 square feet of space in 2021 inside the Two22 Tower, formerly Campbell Mithun Tower.
Now Thrivent is among those also locking in a commitment to Minneapolis. "We are feeling very secure that an agreeable outcome is going to be reached," Spreck said. "We are headed to a better place."