Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Would the Minneapolis of today oppose the construction of IDS Center?

Courtesy of
Lets dream of the future like we used to.

Can we still dream as we once did? logo

When built, the IDS Center didn’t match any of the character of the city, any of the colors or materials of the surrounding buildings, their heights or setbacks, and it stuck out on the horizon for tens of miles. Yet it became embraced by the city and represented how we can change. It also declared to the rest America that Minneapolis was worth paying attention to.

The building achieved new heights, becoming the tallest in North America outside of New York, Chicago and Toronto.

More importantly, beneath this new towering height, was an elaborately designed base blending the land and sky. The Crystal Court offers a Town Square the city never formally had. Wondrous and naturally lit, its expansive space provides the ultimate experience for traversing from sidewalks to skyways. It has physically manifested the identity of Minneapolis into a crystallized, experimental form that aspires to be world-class.

However, the residents of Minneapolis now are often found objecting to buildings that stand out, are taller, different, and that are trying for something unique. This has led one to wonder, with this attitude of opposing change: would we still allow the construction of the IDS Center today?

How did we go from pioneering and experimental to objecting to buildings of five and six stories?

The soaring Cedar Riverside development is often regarded as something of a failure: It destroyed much of an existing neighborhood, incorporated new architecture that did not age gracefully, and it ignored most of the local context. Still, Cedar Riverside today is near full occupancy, recently underwent a renovation, and is still standing unlike many other experimental housing projects of the era. Is this then still a complete failure?

The knee jerk reaction we’ve gone through is to avoid making the same mistakes again: don’t change the neighborhood, don’t build tall, and don’t experiment with the architecture.

Recently, this resistance to change has manifested itself in building moratoriums, contentious city meetings, and neighborhood groups requesting the legal power to halt developments that they deem would change the neighborhood.

Everything we do changes a neighborhood: from the color we paint the mailboxes, the kind of landscaping we plant in the front yard, down to the clothes we wear walking down the sidewalk. The character of a neighborhood constantly changes.

The last thing Minneapolis needs is a gated community approach to allowing new buildings and people into its neighborhoods.

Smaller cities are outdoing us

Minneapolis today is preventing itself from reaching its full potential. Many smaller cities have better urban developments than we do, and are shooting for something greater.

This can be found in Portland, Oregon, south of its downtown, along the river in the ‘South Waterfront’ development. The buildings consist of glass and steel, towers 25-35 stories high, atop a 5-6 story base. This base acts as an ‘in-between’ from the tower to the pedestrian experience on the sidewalk, with a mix of shops and ground level apartments, adding increased activity and eyes along the street. This area is projected to be a popular and beautifully dense new section of the city.

Minneapolis has already lost out on such potential by omitting similar towers around Gold Medal Park, missing the possibility of more people living there, enjoying the park and adding life to its surroundings.

Can Minneapolis still dream of the fantastic and outlandish?  

Above I have photoshopped together a glimpse of a possible future Minneapolis; intended to stir a few imaginations and to send some self-imposed dogma out the window.

What’s depicted:

Center: Two buildings taller than the IDS Center, and perhaps one of them being once again the tallest west of the Mississippi?

On the left and right: New high-rise residential buildings filling in the south end of Nicollet, around Loring Park, and all over Downtown East with the introduction and success of the ‘Yard’. For a more encouraging pedestrian atmosphere, most of these residential developments would ideally be following something similar to the tower on top of a lively base motif; allowing for more people downtown and invigorating street life.

Could Minneapolis have more development of this typology all around the city?

Wouldn’t it be great if more people could enjoy living along the north end of Lake Calhoun, in Uptown, Dinkytown, the Warehouse district, and on the riverfront?  With these places changing, they can have new identities, new experiences, and hopefully bring a fresh spirit to the city: to try something new and different.

With the future in our control: What kind of Minneapolis do we want to emerge?


This post was written by Nick Sortland and originally published on Follow on Twitter: @streetsmn.

If you blog and would like your work considered for Minnesota Blog Cabin, please submit our registration form.

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Zach Padoe on 02/14/2014 - 10:48 am.

    Minneapolis Would Oppose

    Yes, Minneapolis of today would definitely oppose the construction of the IDS Center. Minneapolitans of today don’t like having their views blocked by tall buildings. Minneapolitans of today do not want progressive architecture and so settle for 6 story suburban-style architecture, which has become the norm throughout the city. Minneapolitans of today do not want to be living in a “big” city – a new tower the size of the IDS would suggest that we were heading in that direction. Minneapolitans of today are fine with commuting all over the metro area for work so a tower the size of the IDS would not make sense. Furthermore, the vast majority of the metro’s large companies are located in the burbs so again, towers the size of the IDS are not necessary. If you want new towers move to one of Minneapolis’ peer cities such as Seattle or Denver. Perhaps cities like Charlotte and Austin would be ideal as well as their residents and city leaders want towers the size of the IDS.

  2. Submitted by Allan Wilson on 02/14/2014 - 01:37 pm.

    Opposition to High Rise Development

    I think Minneapolis has a dynamic and progressive feel to it and would gladly accept a few towers in the 100+ story range.

    On the other hand, Saint Paul and Fargo appear to be mired in a maze of regulations, boards and a preference for post-modern Luddite design which impedes forward progress. Witness Saint Paul’s current controversies over the Saints stadium design, truly a tempest in a teapot. A design process which should have taken seven months (at the max) threatens to spread out to well over a year.

    • Submitted by Jim Buscher on 02/14/2014 - 04:45 pm.

      It seems to be a case of trying to appease everyone. Where the Vikings stadium had next to zero public input, the Saints ballpark has too much. There’s even disagreements with the placement of the trees along the sidewalks. Good grief. Some folks take things way too serious.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 02/16/2014 - 05:51 pm.

      You’ve got it backwards

      The Saints stadium is an ugly postmodern piece of crap that is going into an architectecturally interesting and distinct neighborhood. The failure to think big is not on the neighborhood, but on the stadium designers. Not every opposition to a new building is due to being Luddites.

  3. Submitted by Steve Sande on 02/14/2014 - 02:49 pm.

    Not just dreams, but decisions

    The IDS Center is not only visually stunning, in all the ways that Nick Sortland has described, but its location was well chosen.

    Placing the city’s tallest office tower immediately adjacent to downtown’s retail core is a decision that has served us well. Studies suggest that most people will not walk more than a few blocks to shop, so it is of great benefit to have dense development close to the retail district. An entire city block was leveled, including a very handsome Art Deco Woolworth store, to make way for the IDS Center. That’s a tradeoff I can live with. Downtown retail has had its ups and downs, but Minneapolis is one of the few mid-sized cities that can still boast two downtown department stores (including the large Macy’s across from the IDS). Such amenities help to make downtown an appealing and vibrant place to live, work or visit.

    Today the city is encouraging high-rise development at the edge of downtown, far from the retail core. I do hope this decision is the result of careful consideration about the future of downtown. Unless downtown can deliver booming growth for years to come, there is some risk that a wave of new sky-scraping developments at the periphery will increase vacancies or demolitions closer to the core. Increased online shopping and the decline of the middle class are already making it difficult to fill all the retail vacancies on the Nicollet Mall.

    If the Philip Johnsons of today want to bring their bold visions to Minneapolis, I hope they will get a fair hearing. As long as a big-money developer is attached, they will probably be greeted with open arms. Minneapolis officials certainly pulled out all the stops recently to ram through a lesser vision (see: Downtown East, with its city-subsidized destruction of a historic building to make way for a hastily planned “park”).

    • Submitted by Zach Padoe on 02/15/2014 - 12:49 pm.

      Destruction of a Historic Building

      I agree with you regarding the park, but what exactly is historic about the Star Tribune building? The fact that it was built in the 40s doesn’t make it special. Yes it represents the city’s newspaper, but that area has been a DEAD zone for decades and some of those parcels were own by the Star Tribune.

      • Submitted by Steve Sande on 02/15/2014 - 07:48 pm.

        Star Tribune Building complements the Armory

        As Linda Mack has noted, the Star and Tribune Building is one of the *last* examples of 1940s architecture still standing in downtown Minneapolis.

        Its Art Moderne elements complement the neighboring Armory. The Strib building is also a decent example, I think, of a kind of midcentury commercial architecture commissioned by newspaper publishers. With newspapers in decline, these structures are vanishing rapidly. (The particulars of its historic significance might be better known if the Minneapolis City Council had not overruled the Heritage Preservation Commission, which earlier had ordered a designation study along with its denial of the demolition permit.)

        Indeed, no development pressure in that area for decades. (Plenty of surface parking lots are available there for park space; no need to destroy a charming, quite serviceable building.) But why was it a dead zone? Likely answers: The city, through its zoning and planning functions, had a strategy of encouraging more intense development closer to the center of downtown, where it would benefit the retail core. Decades ago, the Minneapolis mayor and City Council would not have blown hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues to encourage this kind of developer bonanza on the periphery of downtown.

  4. Submitted by Scott Stansbarger on 02/14/2014 - 04:13 pm.

    This story…

    This story is basically what I’ve been saying for the past couple of years. Thanks, Nick, for writing this because for whatever reason, Minneapolis is consistantly selling itself short (no pun intended) and it gets really frustrating. Although they’ll deny it, Minnesotan’s have a “things are just fine how they are” attitude and are unwilling to ‘go big’. Not all Minnesotan’s obviously, but most. I hope within the next 15 years, our downtown can look a lot like the one in your graphic.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/15/2014 - 08:38 am.

    Build tall

    Do we want to build tall? Is there a market for tall buildings? The taller the building, the more expensive it is to operate, the more volume within it has to be used for support, and not for rental space.Building tall makes sense where land is a scarce resource, like Manhattan, but here, instead of building another office tower in downtown Minneapolis, we can always build another office park in Woodbury. And, increasingly in this internet age it doesn’t make any difference where buildings are located, or how far in the air employees are working.

    • Submitted by Allan Wilson on 02/15/2014 - 02:08 pm.

      RE: Build tall

      Yes, there is an active market for tall office buildings. Just ask any of the investors who sell the
      IDS Center every three to five years for $250 million +.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/16/2014 - 06:33 am.

        Tall buildings

        It’s more a question of things like vacancy rates, and rent, I think. Is there an increasing demand for downtown office space the buildings we have now cannot support?

  6. Submitted by Brian Simon on 02/15/2014 - 08:50 am.

    Lost opportunities

    Rebuilding a stadium on the metrodome site is a lost opportunity to add compelling, visionary architecture to Minneapolis.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/15/2014 - 12:17 pm.

    This article strikes me as pretty absurd. Constructing a very tall commercial building (the IDS) smack-dab in the middle of what was then a very vital retail and business downtown Minneapolis (obviously none of you guys commenting here is old enough to have lived to see that vital retail downtown, now defunct) was logical. It was welcomed. Like the 1929 Foshay Tower that broke into the Minneapolis skyline for the first time. Duh.

    And downtown Minneapolis is full of highrise buildings today. Close to the retail center that remains, and reconstructing a kind of urban-center flavor of what had been, before massive teardowns (the Whole Foods market replaces a market that very vibrantly served downtown for decades before Block E).

    There is a difference between a commercial-oriented downtown and a primarily-residential neighborhood not connected to downtown. Minneapolis zoning ordinances recognize that distinction, even if the author of this screed doesn’t.

    Zoning law permits discussion of development before it happens. It slows developers down, and most of them should be slowed down for careful discussion of the impacts of what they want to do. Some development is destructive of community, as well as streetscape (all the cheap stuff–leasing, however, for luxury rents!–going up in and beside Dinkytown and Stadium Village in the past five years is an example; we are not seeing lovely pre-World War II Manhattan residences going up, folks, it’s just quick and cheap and renting by the bed). What Minneapolis did in the late 1950s and 1960s, tearing down many hundreds of residential structures in good shape simply because they were fifty to seventy years old and replacing them with cheap two-and-a-half-story walkups–in the name of density–should give us pause.

    Of course, there is no knowledge of our city’s history in this article, so the author has no idea of what blindly tearing things down for new development, no matter what it is, really means.

  8. Submitted by Mark Rose on 02/15/2014 - 05:31 pm.

    Minneapolis skyscrapers

    As a California transplant who grew up in San Francisco, I am dismayed by the provincial mentality reflected in the opposition to adding new skyscrapers in downtown Minneapolis. It seems, at times, that an underlying culture of mediocrity exists. This has the effect of creating inertia and resistance to projects such as the one mentioned in this article, that would truly elevate the status and recognition of the Twin Cities to the level it rightfully deserves.

  9. Submitted by Jon Lord on 02/16/2014 - 08:00 am.


    Does anyone remember how long the IDS center was mostly unoccupied? Decades…and just who paid for that?

    • Submitted by Allan Wilson on 02/16/2014 - 01:47 pm.


      The IDS Center has never had a major vacancy problem. The history of the development in the downtown core area is the announcement in 1966 of plans for a 21 story tower for Midwest Federal (801 Nicollet Mall). This space was so rapidly absorbed that the plans for IDS quickly grew from a 12 story building to the 57 story project we see today, prompting the original architect from Minneapolis to step aside and bring in Philip Johnson of New York.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/17/2014 - 10:30 am.

    Just a couple points

    I think we’re throwing too many apples in the same cart here. Building “high” downtown is not the same as building high on Lake Calhoun.

    As far as downtown is concerned, I don’t about anyone else but I’ve seen a lot of building going on downtown in the last ten years so I don’t know why we’re complaining about a lack of building. Seems to me building downtown is governed more by economics than neighborhood approval. I remember hearing for years that the IDS was having trouble getting its occupancy rate above 50%. And as someone who was actually there, people should know that the Crystal court was always a skyway hub that you passed through rather than a destination. There was never very much reason to actually be in the Crystal Court. The skyline of MPLS has changed dramatically over the last 40 years, I don’t know what more people want?

    I don’t think we should limit hight to 52 floors just because of the IDS, but are we really doing that? I mean is it actually some kind of city ordinance?

    As for living on Lake Calhoun, well you don’t always get you want in life. The chain of lakes and the riverfront are one the cities most valuable natural features. They attract millions of visitors a year according the MPLS Park Board. You don’t want to build anything that’s going to detract from that natural asset. Building a ten or fifteen story complex right between Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun would very diminish the natural aesthetics of the area. The only reason to build high there is for the financial gain of the builder, that’s not a public issue.

    And what’s with this ongoing Portland envy? I’ve been to Portland. I’m not saying MPLS can’t be better but there’s no comparison to our riverfront development. Portland’s riverfront is awful compared to ours. On one side the riverfront is cut off from the city by a major thoroughfare, and on the other it’s flat industrial property with little or no activity at all. And frankly, the river itself in Portland is a dull feature. The main feature of Portland is the mountains in the distance the big park up on the hill.

Leave a Reply