The normal world seemed to have stopped around April. Offices closed. Restaurants were shuttered. The downtowns emptied out.
But the construction projects that had already begun weren’t stopped cold, waiting for someone to turn the key to the world again.
If a skyscraper’s going up, the steel is en route. If there’s an apartment building under construction, there are loans coming due.
Building during trying times isn’t new. The Empire State Building was erected in the immediate aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929, and Rockefeller Center broke ground in 1931, in the teeth of the Great Depression.
So even though you may not be going to downtown Minneapolis often (or at all), construction has continued and the skyline has been changing. Here are some things you might notice when you next venture downtown:
Thrivent Financial (600 Portland Av. S.)
The headquarters was well underway before the pandemic hit. And while it’s not officially open, it looks complete, right down to the circular interior lights that make it look like a warehouse for halos. The building is not the tallest nor the flashiest — eight stories of stone, glass and metal — but it is a cool, serene, crisp piece of architecture that will likely look self-contained and self-confident for decades.
The Public Service Building (505 4th Av. S.)
Under construction well before the shutdown, the 11-story structure is completely clad and the result is fresh and eye-catching. The facade is unique: a repeating series of rippling windows jutting out at the same angle.
It doesn’t blend all that well with its surroundings, and that’s OK. The color palette of the area was set by City Hall, the Hennepin County Government Center and the standoffish Hennepin County Public Safety Facility. It’s a muted puce. (The parking ramp that the Public Services Building replaced was brighter, but bright puce is still puce.)
The new building is silver-bright, and ties in well with nearby U.S. Bank Plaza.
The Larking (8th St. and Portland Av. S.)
Perhaps you don’t get down by the Hennepin County Medical Center too often. You weren’t missing much if you ignored the lot between Portland and Park on 8th Street. It was typical fringe-of-downtown — a parking lot and a drive-through bank.
Both are gone. The bank relocated to a new two-story structure that recalls the commercial structures of the early 20th century, and the drive-through’s site has been excavated deep for the Larking, a 16-story blue-gray apartment building.
RBC Gateway (250 Nicollet Mall)
Since it’s tall for these parts — 37 stories — they had to dig deep. The elevator shafts were starting to emerge when the lockdown hit, two unlovely stubs of concrete growing out of the foundation.
Now it’s more than eight stories tall and already a dense beast, the most significant high-rise in decades. It’s worth a look to see how the bones of the mixed-use structure are forming. You can also take your last look at the reflection-free glass facade of Marquette Plaza (the former Minneapolis Federal Reserve building). Since the Nicollet Hotel went down in 1991, the building’s blue facade has reflected nothing but sky. That is changing as the RBC rises.
SPS Tower (333 S. 7th St.)
Since its opening in 1987, the SPS (once known as the Lincoln Tower) had a fountain in the lobby. Very, very ’80s. Geometric shapes, black and gray marble. It fit the building, which is an updated version of the classic pre-World War II American skyscraper.
Last year, the fountain went dry. When people return to work at the tower, they might be surprised to find an enormous mass of jungle foliage, a living wall, instead of the fountain.
Also under construction: a glassed-in area under the skyway, which will serve as a sunny room for the building’s restaurant.
It’s a 21-story apartment building across the street from RBC Gateway. It was started later, but since it’s smaller, it’s rising faster. If you drive east on Hennepin from Washington, you’ll be flanked by two structures that weren’t there as recently as Jan. 1, 2020.
That’s just a quick look at what’s changing downtown. Cranes still sprout up around the Twin Cities, projects still move forward. That’s hopeful. The next question is whether new buildings will continue to rise after the current crop has been completed.