Grain Belt Brewhouse
Minnesota | 2005 National Preservation Honor Award Winner | Posted: 10/18/2005
The picturesque towers of the Minneapolis Brewing Company`s Brewhouse have dominated the skyline of Northeast Minneapolis since 1892, a year after the company was formed by the merger of four brewers. Later the complex, which included the Brewhouse, a bottling plant, and warehouses, became known by the name of its most famous product, Grain Belt beer. Generations of local families worked at the brewery. When the business was sold in 1974, the new owner promised that this tradition would continue. Then on Christmas Day in 1975, the brewery`s doors were closed, with less than two week`s notice to the workers. Within 30 days, any reusable machinery was auctioned off and everything else sold for scrap, quashing hopes for the brewery`s reopening.
People in the neighborhood worried as the massive complex deteriorated. Their worst fears were realized in 1988 when the owner began demolishing the Brewhouse. To stop the destruction, the Minneapolis Community Development Agency purchased the property, a commitment that highlighted the site`s significance to the city`s architectural and economic history. Two years later, the complex was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Stopping the wrecking ball was just the beginning of the long and often frustrating road to redevelopment. Along the way, a parade of developers announced plans to convert the Brewhouse into a hotel and meeting complex, an aquarium, headquarters for a cosmetics company, a production facility for the Guthrie Theater, and even a mixed use development with a canal to the nearby Mississippi River. None of these ideas came to fruition. The 100,000-square-foot Brewhouse, originally designed and constructed to produce beer, proved difficult to adapt for another use. The floors of the building`s four sections were at different heights. Large warehouse areas had no windows. Mechanical and electrical systems had been stripped from the building.
The future of the Brewhouse looked grim as developer after developer conceded defeat. Then in 1999, nearly a quarter of a century after the last beer was drawn from Grain Belt`s vats, RSP Architects began considering the Brewhouse for its new corporate headquarters. The expanding firm had outgrown its turn-of-the-century building in the Minneapolis Warehouse Historic District and wanted a unique new place to call home. RSP approached Ryan Companies, a Minneapolis developer, about the possibility of renovating the Brewhouse, with Ryan as the contractor and owner and RSP as the building`s tenant. Ryan and RSP began discussing a development proposal with the city. Over the next year, Ryan`s development and construction divisions, RSP, and the city collaborated to identify the existing conditions in the Brewhouse, achieve a feasible redesign, and finance the project.
Most of the unsuccessful plans had proposed to gut the building`s shell, an expensive prospect. Ryan and RSP found the key to success by maintaining the existing layout and character while carving out forty-seven interior doorways/openings, adding "catwalks" and other circulation paths, modifying floor levels, and finding creative ways to use unusual spaces. For example, an exit stair tower, a mechanical shaft, an elevator shaft, and a circulation stair were inserted in former grain bins. A grand stairway was removed, cleaned, and reinstalled with slight modifications to meet today`s building codes. Windows were inserted in architecturally appropriate locations to make useable office space. During the design process, plans were discussed with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission, and the National Park Service to ensure that the project would conform to the Secretary of the Interior`s Standards for Rehabilitation.
Historic investment tax credits were an important part of the project`s pro forma. As with many historic buildings, the cost of renovation greatly exceeded the revenue to be derived from the Brewhouse. Ryan, RSP, and the city worked together to "fill the gap," which exceeded $13,000,000. All possible sources of funds—including Minneapolis`s General Fund—were tapped.
RSP Architects moved into the Grain Belt Brewhouse in 2002. By that time, the Minneapolis Public Library had taken on the renovation of the Grain Belt complex`s wagon shed and millwright shop, inspired by the Brewhouse`s example. The library was warmly welcomed by the community when it opened in May 2003. Artspace Projects has recently acquired two other buildings in the Grain Belt complex to maintain them as workspace for artists. Ballet of the Dolls, an avant-garde dance company, will soon begin renovating the vacant Ritz Theater, an Art Deco landmark, anchoring an arts district in a neighborhood commercial area a few blocks from Grain Belt. These are only a few examples of the remarkable renaissance that the Brewhouse renovation helped stimulate in the Northeast Minneapolis community.
For more information contact:
RSP Architects, Ltd.
1220 Marshall Street, NE
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55413