A Minneapolis mansion that was once considered among the most endangered historic places in the state is being rescued by a trio of developers who will connect the 133-year-old stone structure to a new apartment building with a three-story glass breezeway.
Crews started work this week on a new five-story apartment building that will be married to the three-story Alden Smith mansion, which will be repurposed as a one-of-a-kind amenity that incorporates a billiards room with community piano, cocktail lounge and co-working spaces for residents. The $26 million project will also include a 64-foot-tall "green wall" that will give residents on the back of the apartment building a view of live plants rather than nearby buildings.
The 124-unit project is less than a block from Loring Park on the campus of the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), which has been pursuing redevelopment options since 2010. The development team, which includes W+Noordijk, Yellow Tree Development and Sentinel Management Co., acquired the mansion at 1403 Harmon Place and two adjacent undeveloped parcels from the state of Minnesota in late October.
In 2016, MCTC asked the city to assist with the sale of the mansion, which had been considered by other developers who deemed it too costly and complicated to renovate.
Paola Bernardi Sipe, president of Sentinel Management, said that while the company normally doesn't partner with other developers, she was willing to participate because of the opportunity to save the mansion.
"This is one of the most unusual and exciting projects we've done," she said.
For the developers, the project has been a yearslong commitment that has been far from routine. It comes at a particularly challenging time in the rental market, which has no shortage of new, low-rise buildings with similar designs and amenities in a city that's reeling from a global pandemic and a summer of civil unrest.
Brian Woolsey, principal at W+Noordijk, said that the project has gone through several iterations and several potential partners. He hopes the literal connection to the mansion and a host of unusual amenities will help it stand out in a market that's considerably more competitive than when he first starting working on the project several years ago.
"You can't build old buildings, just like you don't build more shoreline," said Woolsey. "And that will set this apart."
Given its location, he's tailored the project to students and young professionals who work near Loring Park and in downtown Minneapolis.
Though the mansion has been used for both residential and institutional purposes over the years and has undergone many alterations, many of its most distinct architectural details are intact and will be repurposed. The main floor will serve as one of two main entrances to the apartment building and will function as a social hub for residents with a coffee bar and fitness/wellness rooms. The mansion will have three apartment suites on the upper floor, a rooftop deck and private dog walk.
"We are excited to add a housing amenity to the neighborhood while saving a piece of the community fabric," said Robb Lubenow, co-founder of Yellow Tree, which is the general contractor.
The mansion was built by Horatio Alden Smith, who was a partner in the Smith & Wyman Sash and Door Co., in what was then known as the Harmon Place neighborhood, a wealthy enclave on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. Smith commissioned William Channing Whitney, a well-known local architect who designed the governor's residence in St. Paul, to design the house. Smith lived in the home with his wife and daughter for less than two decades before he died. His widow lived in the home until 1919, when she sold it.
The developers said the Minneapolis Community College Foundation bought the house in 1993 for $350,000, renovated it and then renamed it the Wells Family College Center. The college had been actively pursuing disposition strategies since 2010 when a funding request to restore the mansion was rejected by the Legislature.
Woolsey said that the project architect, DJR Architecture, has designed an apartment building that won't attempt to match the style of the Richardsonian Romanesque-style mansion, but some of the interior finishes and hardware, which are being designed by New York-based BHDM Design and Minneapolis-based Studio BV, will have take cues from the mansion.
Crews have started site work for the new building and have started deconstructing the mansion. The project is expected to be completed in spring 2022.
Woolsey said Council Member Lisa Goodman helped advocate for the project.
"By partnering with local developers that also cared about Minnesota history, we were able to save a Minneapolis landmark," she said in a statement. "Making this a win for both our local community and future residents for generations to come."
Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376