Thor Construction bets big on north Minneapolis

Thor Construction has some splashy design plans for an underused property in north Minneapolis.

With a design that focuses on sustainability and attractive streetscapes, Thor Construction hopes to set new $30 million multitenant office and retail building on a vacant property in the southeast quadrant of and Penn avenues.

Thor, now based in Fridley, announced its plans for the privately funded development Wednesday. Plans are in the early stages, with approvals still pending from the city, Hennepin County and the neighborhood. But if the pieces fall into place, construction could start in the fourth quarter of this year with occupancy in spring 2018, Thor said.

Thor’s in­house design group is working with Minneapolis ­based LSE Architects on the plans for a four­story, 92,000­ square­-foot building in a neglected part of the city. Thor, one of the nation’s largest minority­ owned construction companies, plans to occupy about 11,000 square feet for its headquarters and offer up 65,000 square feet to outside office tenants. The building would also include 16,000 square feet of first­floor retail and 600 underground parking stalls.

Mohammed Lawal, LSE’s principal architect and CEO, said the project team is looking at a rooftop patio with vegetation as a way to capture stormwater runoff in an environmentally sensitive manner on the tight urban location.

The building’s orientation and interior layout are designed to harvest natural light in open and flexible office spaces, Lawal said.

Surrounded by a landscaped plaza with a main entrance facing Penn and Plymouth avenues, the building would feature a concrete­ and­glass exterior illuminated by LED lighting after dark.

Architectural drawings show streetscapes with extra ­wide shaded sidewalks, “pedestrian­ focused” lighting, public art, bicycle storage, seating, native plantings and more.

A dedicated outdoor air ventilation system and radiant heating and cooling in the lobby along with other features would “dramatically lower water and electricity consumption,” according to a press release from Thor.

The design team is also touting the site’s accessibility to Metro Transit’s planned Penn Avenue Bus Rapid Transit
project, also known as the C Line. The $30 million to $35 million line is scheduled to start operations in 2018.

Two of the proposed Bottineau Light Rail Transit stations also would be within walking distance of the building.

Ravi Norman, president and CEO of Thor, said the new parking ramp would support the future expansion of the non-profit NorthPoint Clinic at 1313 Penn Ave., in addition to serving office and retail users.

Thor is working with Colliers International to line up retail and office tenants, with an eye toward financial and medical services tenants and a full-­service restaurant.

Ideal office tenants would “support the planned onsite minority innovation and entrepreneur hub, as well as minority entrepreneurs themselves,” Thor said in a press release.

Norman said Thor has received letters of interest for about 63 percent of the space to be leased.

Potential tenants include the Community Reinvestment Fund, Metropolitan Economic Development Association, North Central Minority Supplier Development Council and Jog Associates, he said.

Thor plans to act as its own general contractor for the project, but would recruit minority subcontractors and workers from the neighborhood.

The company wants to put its “corporate stakes down in a part of the city that is yearning for private sector investment and commercial real estate development,” Norman said.

“We want to lead with our dollars and actions, not just our words,” he said in an interview.

Thor is looking into federal New Market Tax Credits as a financing tool, and the development team may seek some help for soil correction. Other than that, it’s a privately funded development, Norman said.

Barbara Johnson, a Minneapolis City Council member who represents a district that includes the project area, said she’s pleased that Thor wants to put some money into the neighborhood.

“It’s very good to see that people are trying to see what they can do, not from afar, but with investment,” she said.

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