Ryan Cos. has staked its first claim in Rochester's $5.6 billion Destination Medical Center development blitz.

The Minneapolis-based company is partnering with Harrison Street Real Estate Capital to give the former Wells Fargo building, one of the most unremarkable buildings in one of Rochester's most notable locations, a major face-lift.

The team is spending more than $26 million to buy and renovate a low-rise building that is situated along Peace Plaza, a public space that is in the heart of the city's central business district.

The project is Ryan's first big investment in downtown Rochester, which has become a hot new frontier for Twin Cities developers.

"There's growing awareness of the opportunities in Rochester," said Patrick Seeb, director of economic development and place-making for the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency.

The project is a ground zero for Rochester's Heart of the City district, a focal point of the broader Destination Medical Center initiative, which is aimed at drawing $5.6 billion in new development over the next several years.

The angular, mirrored glass and steel Wells Fargo building was built in the early 1980s and has a particularly complicated footprint. It is sandwiched between several other buildings, including a parking garage and a historic theater. It has both subway and skyway access to other buildings and opens onto Peace Plaza. A significant multilevel portion of the building straddles First Avenue, a key thoroughfare through the center of downtown.

Tony Barranco, senior vice president of development for Ryan Cos., said the renovation will focus on several key improvements. A recessed corner entry on Peace Plaza will be replaced with a more dramatic glass entry that will project onto the plaza. An interior stairway connection between the subway, ground floor and skyway levels will be reworked to create better interaction with the street.

Ryan will replace dark, mirrored exterior glass with more transparent glass to create a more-open working environment and more-visual engagement with the street. And an escalator will be removed and its atrium revamped to better connect the building to Peace Plaza and the adjacent Chateau Theatre, a historic structure that also fronts the plaza.

"We want to remake the connection points and make them more interactive with the buildings around us," Barranco said.

"We are inspired by the vision of the Heart of the City, and we are excited to re-imagine the Wells Fargo building and create a vital connection between the subway, skyway and Peace Plaza.

Ryan has been looking for opportunities in the DMC boundaries for at least five years, he said. The company, which has developed some retail projects in the area, is just one of several Twin Cities developers that has staked a claim in Rochester. Already, Mortenson, Alatus, Opus, Knutson and Kraus-Anderson have major projects underway in the city.

Wells Fargo listed the property about a year and a half ago and will lease back about a fifth of the building's 100,000-plus square feet. Ryan paid Wells Fargo $14.9 million, according to public records. Barranco estimated the total acquisition and rehab cost at more than $26 million. Construction is scheduled to begin in September and to take about a year.

Seeb praised Ryan for its plans to do a thorough, top-to-bottom renovation rather than a less-expensive slap-and-dash fix-up.

"They could have simply done a modest makeover and called it a day," said Seeb. "But they chose to do some heavy lifting and be more creative."

In addition to bringing new energy to one of the most visited parts of the city, Seeb expects the renovation to set a standard for future building projects in the area.

"It's a building that's very recognizable here in downtown, but not in a real positive way," he said. "In a way it's been a detriment to the downtown aesthetic."