Hometown feel right on target

Minneapolis firms roll up their sleeves to make a lasting downtown statement and win over civic doubters
August 11, 2010

Action movies can be shameless about motivating their heroes. Often, the vengeful and breathless lead will turn to the camera and coolly announce, "OK, now it's personal."

The building team for 900 Nicollet, downtown Minneapolis' new 800,000-sq.-ft. retail and office complex, definitely knows the feeling.

"All our projects are important to us, but this one is right smack in the middle of Minneapolis," notes John Kelly, executive vice president of Ryan Companies U.S. Inc., Minneapolis, the development's design-builder and part owner. As if Ryan's stake in the $89 million, mixed-use project wasn't enough, it is also one of the major tenants, having recently moved its headquarters into 70,000 square feet of prime office space on the building's third floor.

"They were putting a lot of money on the line here, so they definitely had their heart in this job," adds Mic Johnson, design principal for lead architect Ellerbe Becket Inc., Minneapolis, which acted as a subcontractor to Ryan.

The heart of downtown

The designer may have its own place in Ryan's heart. Testament to their collaborative success, the building team members are working together again on two other prominent local design-build projects. Just a block to the south and west of 900 Nicollet, Ryan and Ellerbe Becket last month were on schedule to deliver local retail giant Target Corp.'s new 33-story, $250 million headquarters tower. Meanwhile, across town at the University of Minnesota's main campus, the pair also are working on $140 million worth of new student housing.

The firms have now teamed seven times over the last six years, adding 5 million square feet of new retail, office and living space to the city. But it is their 27 months of work on 900 Nicollet that has earned them a Building Design & Construction 2002 Merit Award for commercial construction.

"Everybody at Target is just thrilled with the project," says Richard Varda, Target's vice president of architecture and engineering. The firm is 900 Nicollet's anchor, occupying a 170,000-sq.-ft. store, plus another 70,000 square feet. Some 465,000 square feet of general office space rises behind the store. All opened last September.

"There was a lot of controversy about putting these high-density projects in a traditionally low-scale, low-density area," adds Varda. "But the reaction has been just wonderful."

Varda, himself, worked for Ellerbe Becket years ago. But now, in this era of downsizing and outsourcing, he finds himself in a key role at one of the largest owners bucking the prevailing trend. In the last 10 years, Target has put together a formidable real estate and construction division that now boasts nearly 400 professionals, including 140 architects and engineers and another 100 in construction management.

"We build about $2.5 billion per year in new construction all across the U.S.," he says.

And one of Target's preferred providers for decades has been Ryan, in Minneapolis and elsewhere. "They do a good job and they get people to partner with them," says Varda. "They are very careful about defining goals."

Sensing the community

At 900 Nicollet, those goals included making sure that the project fit into the fabric of downtown and actually added to the urban environment without overwhelming it. So the public-private ownership team of Target, Ryan and the city actively sought public feedback.

"There's a lot of construction in that neighborhood, so we were very sensitive to maintaining a sense of community," says Johnson of Ellerbe Becket. "We wanted to make it comfortable, not full of towers," he adds.

Instead, the design staggers the elevation, from four stories at the main entrance to 12 along the south edge. And to maintain continuity with its historic, low-rise neighbors, the team sought local advice for street scale, color and texture.

In the end, 11 brick types were employed, plus seven stone types, seven colors of architectural metal panels and curtain-wall framing. During initial demolition, terra-cotta cornice and medallions were salvaged and used in the new design. Like much of downtown, 900 Nicollet also connects with surrounding structures through some 20,000 square feet of skyways.

The building "adds warmth and activity to an often gray downtown," wrote Linda Mack, architecture critic for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "At dusk or on a rainy evening, the corner glass rotunda glows with light and the movement of people inside. It's a rare architectural moment in a downtown of masonry, tinted glass, square corners and masked insides — and a relief to those who feared a Target store would be a monolithic, inward-looking, suburban intrusion."

Mack is not alone in her praise of a project that has been remarkably well received. Complimenting Ryan and Ellerbe Becket's inclusive community outreach, Minneapolis Downtown Council President Sam Grabarski also described 900 Nicollet to the local press as "an impressive array of articulated building fronts, roof lines, window treatments and building materials."

Many on the building team also credit design-build for easing and expediting the work. "It's a much more involving process for everyone," notes Johnson. "And the city, the community, all of us, just seemed a lot more open."

Ryan, of course, had many perspectives, but one conclusion. "It's a very effective delivery system," says Kelly. "Design-build works best when you have a very collaborative client, which we were. ... Of course, on this job, we were a very demanding client, too," he admits.

Construction Costs

General requirements $8,720,000
Site work 5,450,000
Concrete/masonry 18,350,000
Steel 11,988,000
Equipment/elevators 7,053,000
Skybridges 3,500,900
Thermal/moisture protection 2,501,000
Door/windows 5,728,000
Finishes, interior 8,927,000
Mechanical 11,228,000
Electrical 6,008,000
TOTAL $89,453,900