Luigi Bernardi might just be one of the most prolific developers you have never heard of.
His late father, an engineer who for several years oversaw oil-drilling operations in Iran before moving to the Twin Cities in the early 1960s, was similarly reluctant to put the family name on a project, of which there are many.
To be sure, the Bernardi family businesses, which includes two siblings, have had an outsize impact on the Twin Cities as an owner and/or developer of raw land (300 acres in Edina and 3,000-plus acres in Chaska), retail (Benetton Stores, Chaska Commons among others), medical facilities (Two Twelve Medical Center and Centennial Lakes Medical Building, for example), housing (Velo, Aurora on France and more than 5,000 apartments) and at least one hotel (the former Radisson South).
Bernardi’s latest venture is also his biggest — and splashiest — to date: A 41-story riverfront condominium tower will be the tallest — and most expensive — in the state.
Bernardi’s Arcadia LLC is the project sponsor and co-developer with Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos., which will also serve as the builder. The Eleven will be the first Twin Cities project for New York City-based Robert A.M. Stern Architects. We talked with Bernardi about his career (some answers have been edited).
Q: As a second-generation business owner, what makes you most proud?
A: I have been proud of all my accomplishments but one that sticks out is the development of Chaska Commons Shopping Center. The development is a Cub Foods/Home Depot-anchored center which I developed in phases over seven years between 1997 to 2004 in a rural part of town. That kick-started further projects for the city of Chaska, which is now fully developed and flourishing.
Q: Your biggest regret?
A: No regrets, just many lessons learned.
Q: You have always maintained a low profile; is that a reflection of your personality or an intentional business strategy?
A: For me, flying under the radar is a trait I inherited from my parents. Focusing on giving back to our community is a priority for me and one doesn’t need a lot of fanfare to accomplish that.
Q: For someone who prides himself on operating behind the scenes, the Eleven is a particularly bold, high-profile project. How do you feel about that?
A: I feel like a little boy building a big tower: enthusiastic and excited!
Q: So do you consider the Eleven a legacy project?
A: I’ve traveled extensively throughout Europe and North America and wanted Eleven to emulate the amazing architecture and accommodations I’ve seen around the world. Eleven is truly bringing the best of the best to my home city of Minneapolis. It is a legacy that will endure the test of time.
Q: The building is still a few weeks away from groundbreaking, but your sales team has been mum about how many presales you have so far. Is it true you are a buyer?
A: My wife and I will live on the 36th floor overlooking the beautiful Minneapolis skyline, the Mississippi River and St. Paul toward the east.
Q: You already live in a pretty glam downtown condo building. What excites you most about your move?
A: Aside from the spectacular view and living right along the Mississippi River, I’m most looking forward to the resort-style amenity deck which will be the largest one in Minnesota. It will offer everything in terms of relaxation and well-being including a 25-yard lap pool and hot tub, a kids splash pad, outdoor living rooms complete with firepits and grills, poolside yoga studio/indoor fitness center, a golf simulator and more. After all, my future grandchildren need a place to play!
Q: Was a luxury condo tower ever on your development to-do list?
A: Not until the last few years. I saw all the apartment buildings being built and I wanted to build something that would stand out in terms of quality and architectural excellence.
Q: You have said your wife won’t let you retire; what comes after the Eleven?
A: Twelve! Along with traveling the world more and making memories.
Q: Did you just break news about another project?
A: You’ll be the first to know!