Bringing Back Minneapolis' Foshay
From Office Building to Boutique Hotel
By Jennifer Blaise Kramer | Online Only | Oct. 17, 2008
When Minneapolis' Foshay Tower opened in 1929, people flocked to see the tallest skyscraper west of Chicago. Modeled after the Washington Monument, it soared above the Twin Cities, instantly becoming a midwestern landmark. But weeks after debuting, the stock market crashed. Financier Wilbur Foshay lost his fortune, bounced the check he wrote to John Philip Sousa for a commemorative march, and went to prison on charges of mail fraud. Slowly his office building lost its luster, and by 2005 it had less than 50 percent occupancy.
The Foshay Tower's downfall was poignant for many Minnesotans, including real estate entrepreneur and developer Ralph Burnet. He remembers spending 25 cents as an 11-year-old kid to take the bus downtown, get a hot dog and ride the elevator 30 floors up to the observation deck.
"You could see so far," he says. "It was the wildest thing."
Burnet, whose modern, art-filled Chambers Hotel opened nearby in 2006, decided to buy the Foshay, even though he had no concrete plans for its future. Remembering that the W hotel chain likes to think outside the box, he contacted Starwood Hotels and persuaded them to take a look at the new property. Minneapolis wasn't even on Starwood's radar, but they saw so much potential in the faded Foshay, they signed a contract to manage the property in 2006.
To help resurrect the interior, they enlisted Ryan Companies construction, Elness Swenson Graham Architects, and Munge/Leung Design Associates. Since the Foshay is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, they also consulted with the National Park Service and historical consultant Charlene Roise. The obelisk shape created several challenges in converting the offices to 230 hotel suites, necessitating different room layouts and a major reconfiguration for plumbing and wiring.
"The floor-plate changes size, which is why it wasn't working as office space," Roise says. "But for a hotel, what you want is a memorable, unique place."
The team preserved historic details and materials, including Italian marble, wrought iron, terrazzo flooring and four nickel-plated elevator doors. They were thrown for a loop when they opened up the entrance arcade's ceiling and found ornate, albeit badly damaged, art deco plasterwork. Repair was costly (and not in the budget), but available federal tax credits helped subsidize the project, and the restoration was completed. Evergreene Painting Studios salvaged the entire arcade, a show-stopper that casts a warm, rosy glow upon entry.
The tower's 1929 opening celebration lasted days and attracted local and national attention. Its reopening last August drew a new crowd of admirers who came to peer at Wilbur Foshay's name spelled out in 10-foot letters carved into the limestone exterior and his original 27th-floor African mahogany-paneled suite, reinvented as a hotel bar.
And up above, the Twin Cities' only observation deck has returned in all its glory.
If you go…
Call the W Minneapolis—The Foshay at 612.215.3700, or visit whotels.com/Minneapolis.
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