Urban Hub Right on Target

Minneapolis firms roll up their sleeves to make a lasting downtown statement

May 01, 2002 |

Action movies can be pretty 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’s new 800,000 square foot 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 $88-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, to be done later this year.

To date, the firms have now teamed together seven times over the last six years, adding 5 million square feet of new retail, office and living space to the local inventory. It is their 27 months of work on 900 Nicollet, however, that has earned them a Building Design & Construction’s 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 tenant, occupying a 170,000 square foot store, plus 70,000 square feet of support space. Another 465,000 square feet of office space rise behind the retail elements. All opened early 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 of the city and most, if not all, of the early critics has been just wonderful.”

Varda, himself, worked for Ellerbe Becket some years ago. But now, in this continuing era of downsizing and out-sourcing, he finds himself in a key role at one of the largest owners to buck 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, which has worked for the owner several times, 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 of Minneapolis actively recruited the participation of local citizens groups in the project.

“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, so we didn’t want to make the project full of towers,” he adds.

Instead, the design staggers the elevation, from four stories at the main entrance to 12 stories along the southern edge. And to maintain continuity with some of the historic, low-rise structures in the neighborhood, the team met with civic leaders to establish goals of 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 demolition of existing structures, terracotta cornice and medallions were even salvaged and incorporated into the new design. Like much of downtown Minneapolis, 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, from the Mayor’s office on down. Complimenting Ryan and Ellerbe Becket’s inclusive community outreach and overall commitment, Minneapolis Downtown Council President Sam Grabarski also described the project 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 project delivery for easing and expediting the project. “It’s a much more involving process for everyone,” notes Johnson. “And the city, the community, the team, all just seemed to be 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.”


BUILDING TEAM photo caption

From left:

David A. Loehr, AIA, AICP

Principal, Ellerbe Becket, Inc.

Phillip Handy

Senior Project Coordinator

Minneapolis Community Development Agency

Michael P. Cairl

Vice President of Construction

Ryan Companies US, Inc.

Richard Peper

Senior Superintendent

Ryan Companies US, Inc.

Robert A. Parr

Director of Office Development

Ryan Companies US, Inc.

Shashi Suri, AIA

Senior Project Architect

Ellerbe Becket

Julie Hovland

Store Planner

Target Corporation

Sarah Amundsen

Store Planner

Target Corporation

Randy L. Danielson

Director of Development

Ryan Companies US, Inc.

Michael W. Sachi

Project Engineer

City of Minneapolis - Transportation

William Harrison


Target Corporation

Mic Johnson, AIA

Design Principal

Ellerbe Becket


Project Name:

900 Nicollet


RC-NRI, LLC (Ryan); Target Corp.; City of Minneapolis


Ellerbe Becket

Interior architect:

Ellerbe Becket

Structural engineer:

Ericksen Roed


Master Mechanical, Inc.; Horwitz, Inc.


Elliott Contracting Corp.

General Contractor:

Ryan Companies

Construction Manager:

Ryan Companies


800,000 gross square feet

Number of floors:


Construction time:

June 1999 to Sept. 2001

Construction cost:


Delivery method:

design/build GMP


Structural steel:

L.L. LeJeune Co.


Harmon (now Enclos Corp.)


Adolfson & Peterson

Unit masonry:

Artstone; Mankato-Kasota Stone; Twin City Tile & Marble

Ornamental metal:

Hot Iron Metal Studio; Metro Manufacturing

Metal fab/stairs:

Anderson Iron Works

Roof systems:

Dalco Roofing & Sheet Metal

Insulation slabs:

C.W. Peterson



Fire protection:

Viking Automatic Sprinkler


F.M. Frattalone

Acoustical ceilings:

Acoustics Associates; Architectural Sales of Minnesota

Gypsum board:

Berg Drywall


Custom Drywall


Kremer and Davis


Gardner Hardware

OH coiling/doors:

Industrial Door


Julius Nelson & Son

Resiliant floor:

Spectra Contract Flooring


Facilities 2000

Overlay Init