The historic Northrup King campus in northeast Minneapolis, where artists have long set up their studios, is on its way to becoming a place where they can live as well.
After two years of fundraising, nonprofit developer Artspace has finalized plans to transform three buildings on the sprawling campus into 84 affordable apartment units and a cultural center by 2024. Future plans call for rehabbing four more shuttered buildings into artist-focused spaces.
The project is being hailed as a victory for the city, which has struggled with a lack of affordable housing, and a welcome investment into a century-old complex considered the crown jewel of northeast Minneapolis.
"This Northrup building was the cornerstone of the movement that turned Northeast into an art district," said Minneapolis City Council Member Kevin Reich, who grew up in the neighborhood. "Anytime we get to add to it, it's a cause for celebration."
Construction is expected to start next year on the $43 million project, which was funded with grants and loans from the city, state, citizens and an environmental group.
While 84 new units won't make a big dent in Minneapolis' affordable housing crisis, city officials and neighbors are thrilled that the 13-acre site west of Central Avenue, with its towering seed silos and industrial brick buildings, will become an even more important hub for artists, many of whom struggle to make ends meet.
"Northeast Minneapolis is rapidly getting more expensive," said Greg Handberg, the senior vice president of properties for Artspace. "It has historically been where the concentration of the artists in the city have lived and worked, so they are very much in danger of being priced out."
The renovation, Handberg said "is very much about creating a solution for the city's largest district."
Creating unique spaces for artists is what Artspace does.
The nonprofit spent 10 years converting wasted warehouses, tanneries, department stores, feed grain and barn buildings into new housing and galleries for urban artists in Iowa, Colorado, California, Connecticut, New York and in the Twin Cities' Frogtown, Harrison and Logan Park neighborhoods.
When the city called Artspace in 2017 to see if it was interested in talking to Debbie Woodward, daughter of the Northrup King owner and late Twin Cities property owner Jim Stanton, about buying the site, Artspace jumped.
As a condition of the purchase, Artspace promised not to displace the 350 painters, potters, weavers, photographers and sculptors who rent the 200 art studios at Northrup King. Since buying the massive complex, Artspace placed it on the National Register of Historic Places.
Northrup King opened in 1917 as a seed sorting and distribution company. Six towering seed silos and multiple industrial buildings remain on the site at 1500 Jackson St. NE. more than 35 years after the seed company moved out.
The brick buildings sit among studios, restaurants and breweries in an art-centric district that includes the nearby Thorp Building, Casket Arts Building, Solar Arts Building and the California Building.
Northrup King is a centerpiece of the annual Art-A-Whirl studio and music festival and the home of the Art Attack, "First Thursdays" festivals and the Open Saturday tours that summon hundreds for weekly art crawls.
Housing will add a new dimension.
Next year Artspace will start turning two buildings into 163,000 square feet of apartments that will ooze with the funky industrial charm that only 105-year-old brick, iron and thick-beamed structures can give.
Plans call for art galleries, shared workspaces, a laundry area and secure bike storage for residents. A third vacant building will be rehabilitated and become a cultural arts center.
The apartments will be available to artists making 30% to 80% of Minneapolis' area median income, or roughly $31,000 to $78,500 for a household of four.
Rents will run from about $700 to $1,500 a month.
On a recent tour, Artspace's Handberg showed off stunning views of downtown while envisioning a vibrant future for the long-abandoned spaces.
"I can see performances being done right here," he said, turning on the lights inside a former seed warehouse to illuminate its towering wood timbers, accordion iron gates, 15-foot-tall fire doors and loading docks that spill onto an old rail platform.
Darting in and out of pigeon-haunted buildings, Handberg pointed to a half dozen six-story seed silos connected at the very top with a walkway, curving walls and unexpected windows.
"This all will stay. It has to become an art gallery," said Handberg, while stepping over pigeon carcasses and around seed chutes, hoppers, fans and other machines left behind.
Artspace is acting as project developer. It is working with Minneapolis-based architectural firm Cuningham plus Watson-Forsberg in St. Louis Park and the Black-owned and north Minneapolis-based TRI-Construction as general contractors.
Artspace will add a playground, 150 new parking spaces, landscaping and a new stormwater management system to make the site friendly for the artist residents and their neighbors.
Artspace spent two years raising funds and received grants or loans from the city of Minneapolis, the state and the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization.
Logan Park Neighborhood Association board member Pat Vogel said she is pleased to see Artspace redeveloping the site instead of an "out-of-state developer" bent on creating expensive housing that displaces cash-strapped locals.
"Deeply affordable housing is what we need, [so Artspace] has been favorably received," Vogel said.
Reich appreciates the historic preservation and a focus on affordability.
"It's is like, wow! We got the one art community that [didn't get gentrified]," he said. "Instead, it got to keep its character, its people and [even gained] artist housing. That adds a whole different dynamic."
Glass fusion artist Mary Schwartz blew a long sigh of relief about the future plans for the buildings. She said she now can rest easy and welcome more artists into the campus she considers a second home.
"Whew!" she said. "That will be nice."