A nonprofit developer is buying the Northrup King Building, the state's biggest complex of artist studios, pledging to keep it as a home for artists.

Artspace Properties Inc. will take over the massive complex in northeast Minneapolis from its longtime owner, Shamrock Properties, which converted the century-old seed company headquarters into hundreds of coveted studios that open to the public for events such as Art-A-Whirl.

"We viewed this as a mission-critical effort to preserve the studio homes of 350-some artists," said Greg Handberg, senior vice president of properties for Minneapolis-based Artspace.

Longtime property manager Debbie Woodward notified tenants of the change Friday. Pressure to sell to developers intensified after her father, developer Jim Stanton, died in 2017. But Woodward contacted Artspace.

"We wanted the artists to stay," she said.

Home to some of the Twin Cities' most prominent artists, the Northrup King Building — actually a collection of buildings — is "a crown jewel" in the arts scene, said Anna Becker, executive director of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA).

"There was a lot of worry and concern" over who might buy the property, she said. "Rumors were flying." Artists feared a for-profit developer would purchase the building, "giving lip service" to artists but then raising rents and converting to condos.

"We've seen developers use the capital artists have created to sell a neighborhood," touting its studios and breweries, Becker said. "They exploit the neighborhood while displacing the very things that make it livable and awesome."

Artspace is "the best possible organization to take on this project," she said. (Greg Foley, president of NEMAA's board, works for Artspace.)

Bracketed by railroad tracks on either side, the 13-acre property west of Central Avenue includes six buildings with 317,000 square feet of studio and commercial space. There are eight smaller vacant, unrenovated buildings as well, according to Artspace.

The sale is expected to close by year's end. Handberg declined to share the price.

Intermedia Arts gave Artspace $1 million for the deal, using funds from the sale of its own building. The arts nonprofit sold its south Minneapolis home last year for $3.5 million after a budget crisis forced it to suspend operations. The $1 million represents about half of the remaining proceeds after settling Intermedia's debts, said board co-chair Omar Akbar.

"We're very excited about it," Akbar said. "The No. 1 priority for Artspace and for us is preserving affordable space for artists."

Intermedia doesn't plan to have a physical presence in the complex, he said. If Artspace develops other buildings on the property, "there may be an opportunity for Intermedia to participate in some fashion. But no decisions have been made."

Artspace, based in Minneapolis, buys, builds and operates buildings for artists and creative businesses across the country. The nonprofit's most recent development in Minnesota is the Artspace Hastings River Lofts, and it will soon start construction on the Northside Artspace Lofts, a mixed-use redevelopment at 221 N. Irving Av. in Minneapolis. Both include affordable units for artists.

Buying Northrup King is "dead-center on the mission of Artspace to create, foster and preserve affordable space for artists," Handberg said. "To do that work in our own backyard is fantastic."

Stanton bought the property in 1986. "Since we've owned it, people have been asking to buy it," said Woodward, who came on as property manager in the 1990s. Her late father "allowed it to evolve over time," she said. "He would get kind of a kick out of it."

After his death in 2017, Northrup King became "the most requested property" in his real estate portfolio, she said.

"It's a big piece of property in a very hot demand area," she said. "For us, it's always been more than just space. I just hope that the creative people will always have that special place where they can connect with each other and the public."

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