Patrick Stephenson bought a condo with his girlfriend in the North Loop, a deceptively quiet offshoot of downtown Minneapolis, just over a year ago.
The timing seemed ideal, and since they had lived in a couple of other spots in the area beforehand, the North Loop already felt like home to the couple. As an added bonus, shortly after he settled into his new digs, Olson, the advertising agency where Stephenson works as a copy editor, relocated from Loring Park to the Ford Center right across the street.
Also within walking distance is the gym he frequents, his favorite coffeehouse, his barber, and several men’s boutiques where he likes to shop. Not to mention a cluster of the city’s newest and trendiest restaurants and bars — plus the Mississippi riverfront.
Stephenson, who is also a cofounder of 30 Days of Biking, a month-long biking challenge, describes the North Loop to others as a downtown neighborhood, with all the amenities and benefits that implies, but without the traffic or the noise one might expect. “Everything is so close,” he says. “That’s what’s really cool about North Loop.”
Plus, he’s drawn to the vintage warehouse buildings, many of which still bear faded original company logos on the outside. “It’s just cool to walk around and explore. It seems like there’s so much history,” he says.
Similarly the neighborhood is seeing “an amazing trend of cool restaurants,” which range from medium-to-high-end, says David Frank, the city’s transit development director, who also heads the North Loop Neighborhood Association.
This month the new Borough and its bar, Parlour, joined others like the Fulton brewery and taproom, The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar, Haute Dish, Bar La Grassa and 112 Eatery, all of which are testaments to the city’s booming (and nationally recognized) foodie culture. The Aria event center (former home of Theatre de la Jeune Lune) provides a dramatic, bohemian-elegant space for functions.
Many community members are also excited for the pending opening of the Smack Shack, the brick-and-mortar version of a food truck that specializes in New Orleans-style “po’ boy” seafood sandwiches, he says.
Stephenson also made the observation that the area has become a sort of hotbed for men’s boutique stores, like Martin Patrick, MidNorth Mercantile, Arrow, Askov Finlayson and the about-to-launch Handsome Cycles. Like The Bachelor Farmer, whose cooking is rooted in the new Scandinavian cuisine typified by Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant, a number of these shops embrace the area’s Scandinavian roots; Askov Finlayson, for example, offers clothing by Denmark’s Norse Projects and Fjallraven of Sweden.
A long-term boom
The characteristics that Stephenson describes, coupled with the neighborhood’s ongoing development boom, earned it a place in Forbes Magazine’s list of America’s Best Hipster Neighborhoods, late last year (see The Line story here.)
Today, the momentum continues, with a number of big projects in the works, like the bicycle-friendly Velo apartments, 222 Hennepin, and Whole Foods, Dock Street Apartments, and Third North.
The list goes on. In 2012, the green developer Soltva put the finishing touches on the apartment building at 701 N. 2nd Street which bears its (originally Swedish) name. Now Soltva, in collaboration with T.E. Miller Development, Inc., is at work on another apartment complex for the area.
They’re adding hundreds of housing units to the neighborhood, between them, according to David Frank. Over the past decade, the neighborhood has seen more development than any other area of the city, according to U.S. Census data from 2010.
This shows that “The market continues to agree with us, the residents, who think it’s a terrific place,” Frank says, adding, “We think more people should come.”
He attributes the growth in part to the neighborhood’s efforts to attract people and increase density.
“The phenomenon is partly because of how many residents there are, and it’s partly because it’s building on itself,” he says. The activity is “continuing the transition of the formerly industrial zone adjacent to downtown into a vibrant area.”
It helps that the area is so close to the downtown core and amenities like light rail and Target Field. “The vision … is to get more people spending time enjoying themselves safely, getting around with no car,” says Frank.
A missing part of the puzzle, Frank says, is green space, which is lacking in the North Loop. “In my family, we joke about how there’s as much concrete as you can find,” Frank says. “People need a place to go outside and gather,” and children need a place to play.
Toward that end, the neighborhood group hired St. Paul nonprofit consultant Great River Greening to study “what it would take to get a public green space,” he says.
Likewise, the group is working with the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association to explore the possibility of founding an elementary school in the area, “so it’s a viable choice [for families] to stay or move into the neighborhood,” he says.
Filling in the gaps
Tony Barranco, a vice president of development at the locally based Ryan Companies, is working on the company’s $45.2 million project at 222 Hennepin Avenue: apartments, with a Whole Foods store at street level.
Barranco says it was his experience living in the North Loop that put the 222 Hennepin Avenue site, which previously housed a Jaguar dealership, on his radar. He calls the parcel, which is at the northeast end of downtown near the Mississippi River, “an incredible site, in the middle of everything,” and adds, “I knew it was an outstanding fit.”
He predicts that condos will come along “sooner than people think.”
Development of the area will help “clean up some of the vacant buildings and surface parking lots and fill in the gaps” in the neighborhood, he says. That will lead to more retail options. “When there are more daytime folks, more people on foot and on bicycles, retailers will follow.”
As for the 222 Hennepin site, “We wanted to fill the block out and make the entire block active,” while also respecting the neighborhood’s historic character. “We paid attention to how it would interact with the buildings around it,” he says, adding that the design accommodates pedestrians and bicyclists.
The development, which will be LEED-certified for green building, is set to open in late summer this year, according to Barranco.
On a smaller scale, brothers Eric and Andrew Dayton, the sons of Gov. Mark Dayton, are breathing new life into certain old warehouse spaces in the neighborhood. They co-own The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar and Askov Finlayson.
Their businesses attract regulars who live nearby, including a mix of young professionals in creative fields, empty-nesters, and some families in between. “I think there’s a creative and entrepreneurial energy to the neighborhood that attracts and inspires people,” Eric says.
The Daytons recently acquired an 1888-vintage building that’s been dubbed the Historic Hennepin Hotel, at 204 North First Street, adjacent to the former warehouse that houses The Bachelor Farmer and Askov Finlayson. The Daytons plan to move their company’s offices into the old hotel’s upper floors, having outgrown the space above The Bachelor Farmer’s kitchen.
The design process has just begun, Eric says, adding, “We see the lower levels of the new building as an opportunity for Askov Finlayson to grow. Plus, we gained the outdoor area between the two buildings and that presents a number of fun possibilities — but nothing is decided just yet.”
He hopes the neighborhood “continues to grow and fill in with residents and businesses, but that it doesn’t lose its scrappy and independent energy. “I’d hate to see the North Loop lose its grit,” he says. “Although a few more trees wouldn’t hurt, and we’re working on that.”
This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy. Anna Pratt is Development Editor of The Line.