Donjek Building Update


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Donjek, Inc.
There’s an evolution underway in cities today. Job location, transportation, housing development, are all happening according to patterns that diverge from the recent past. Creating great projects and prosperous places in the future demands a new approach, and use of public and private strategies that align with a new marketplace. In three areas, Donjek helps private and public clients build places that work. Here’s a sample: 

  • Public and Project Finance: Project value still revolves around location, but the nature of location is changing. I’ve assisted investors in structuring and closing loans for real estate, advised developers of affordable multifamily housing, and given counsel regarding historic building reuse in this new context. This week, I’ve introduced a new service that unlocks the value of urban location in new ways.
  • Project Management: Over ten months, I have led development of a public and private funding strategy for RiverFirst, an ambitious initiative to reconnect people to the Mississippi River undertaken by the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the City of Minneapolis. When implemented, the RiverFirst projects will leverage the value of river-oriented parks as economic engines, transportation assets, and water quality infrastructure as well as places for physical activity and leisure.
  • Policy: For nearly fifteen years, I’ve provided advice to cities and other consultants on how to align finance tools and market dynamics for successful urban places. A current example is work with the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association and Cuningham Group, developing an updated master plan for one of the oldest, most dynamic parts of the Minneapolis St. Paul region. I’ve recently created a three-minute video narrative of another redevelopment policy project, that unlocked underutilized land around a light rail station area in Minneapolis:

You’re in the business of creating successful places, and Donjek is in business of making it possible with finance, project management and policy strategies. Contact me to talk about moving your project forward.

Jon Commers

Founder and Principal

Donjek Project: Historic Hudson Manufacturing Building Reuse

Visual rendering of a revitalized Hudson Manufacturing Building. Image: Stark Preservation Planning and Peter Musty.

I’m currently in the process of concluding work with a historic reuse team focused on next steps for the H.D. Hudson Manufacturing Building in Hastings, Minnesota. The City-owned Hudson Building is of substantial size, and offers open floor plans and high ceilings – a blank, solid canvas. The Hudson was featured as a “hot property” recently in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

From a finance perspective, the chief hurdle for historic reuse is reconciling long-term lease rates or purchase prices, with a rehabilitation investment that may include remediation, demolition, site costs, and a collection of items that can petrify typical investors: HVAC, roofs, stormwater management, vertical circulation, accessibility improvements. My role on the team, led by Will Stark of Stark Preservation Planning, has been to:

  • Evaluate and quantify the long-term financial gap between the value of the building’s net income and its required investment
  • Identify funding sources and mechanisms that private and public parties could employ to make reuse of the building feasible in a financial sense
  • Inform scenarios for the City’s next steps with the building, with financial analysis. Cost, speed, and scale of reuse each impact the financial outlook for its future
  • Narrate findings related to the downtown marketplace and project finance, to citizens, the City Council, and other stakeholders.

Historic structures offer uncommon attributes for the very reason that their construction occurred in a different marketplace. In the late 1800s when the Hudson Company put up the Hastings facility, materials including stone and lumber were available at lower real cost than today. The proximity of the building to the Mississippi River distinguishes the building regionally, in part because regulations have evolved to protect the river from development impacts. The reuse or demolition of the structure will, either way, continue to influence the health of downtown Hastings.

Related Articles:

The Medium is the Message, or Parks as Performance

IMG00020-20110812-0852 Last night I enjoyed seeing good friend, a professional musician, perform with two bandmates. As at times in the past, I was struck by the generative power of a talented, experienced performance artist. At one moment, there are three people on a stage, poised to play. The next moment, they create something that establishes a connection not only among the producers, but among the audience, and between the two groups.

Given that a primary filter of mine is that of placemaking, I wondered what this shared musical experience means for our work in urban design and redevelopment. Current Donjek projects include an initiative on urban open space, focused on building links between residents and workers to a major riverway and to the green space itself. An (implicit) goal is connecting people to each other using open space as the medium, to create a distinct experience. Another current engagement relates to exploring reuse of a historic industrial building; a substantial element of the community’s preservation interest is to use the structure to connect people today to yesterday’s residents and the heritage of the place. In each case, physical design acts as a language that allows us to relate to others.

Music and other performances can trigger a powerful connection among us. Our places can become more vital and durable if we build and preserve them with connection in mind. 

@Strib Forum: New Recommendations for Fort Snelling Reuse

VoicesSMAs I mentioned previously, I have participated as one of seventeen writers in a new project created by the Star Tribune. The forum, Your Voices, features commentary by artists, advocates, entrepreneurs. Today, I posted a story describing prospects for reuse of historic structures at Minnesota's 160-acre Fort Snelling complex. A Joint Agency Task Force has been meeting since last year to develop concrete recommendations for how to complement and connect activities at the Historic Fort and the substantial recreational assets widely used there, including athletic fields and the State Park. A long story made short: State policy must be changed to allow private parties with reuse ideas and capital to engage in the reuse of dozens of underutilized buildings on the site. Failure to establish such a process will likely lead to the structural demise of buildings located at a strategic hub of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

Stay tuned for discussion of task force recommendations.

Donjek Project: Renovation of Little Rock’s MacArthur Park

Readers will find continuity in another brief comment on parks:  The Cents of Place blog has touched on the economic value of parks and the multiple layers of significance in a space like Rice Park in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.

Donjek has been retained to assist in the implementation analysis for MacArthur Park in Little Rock, Arkansas.  In our office, implementation means raising the capital and operating funds required to renovate and operate quality open space into the future.  Partners, which have moved the project for the last twelve months, include lead consultants Conway + Schulte, as well as Oslund and Associates, each of Minneapolis, and the University of Arkansas Design Center and McClelland Engineers of Little Rock and Fayetteville, Arkansas.

MacArthur Park represents an urban open space with significant historic elements and a physical location close to commercial and academic assets, but challenged by the close proximity of two interstate highways in Little Rock.  Over the coming weeks, we will be examining public and private funding mechanisms and their application to MacArthur Park and the realization of community objectives for the space.  

Graphic:  Courtesy of Conway + Schulte