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.

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Urban Economies: Going with the Flow

River1j Reading Ed Glaeser's Triumph of the City (which I mentioned in this post on transfer of ideas in cities), I learned that in the year 1816, transporting goods across land in early America cost an equivalent amount to shipping it from Boston to London. The comparative relationship tilted settlement and trade distinctly toward our waterways; construction of the Erie Canal and the Illinois and Michigan Canal completed a loop that connected four corners of the developing country. Between 1850 and 1970, at least five of the ten largest U.S. cities were located on this trade circuit.

Waterways remained critical as arteries to transport commodities and other inputs for trade and commerce; they also provided the doorway through which most entered frontier towns like my place, St. Paul. Over time, comparative pricing and relationships to rivers changed – railroads, then cars and trucks, airplanes, and digital thoroughfares provided radically cheaper modes of overland movement. 

Ports facilitate accumulation of value through transfer of material from one transportation mode to another. In the past, the fact that river ports fronted riverways was only significant in that barge transportation was cost-effective. As freight rail (for long runs) and trucks (for shorter runs) compete with river navigation, many river ports have declined. Minneapolis' Upper Harbor Terminal, for example, has managed falling volumes in recent years, the region's barge traffic dominated by the St. Paul (downriver) harbor.

Today, the relationships of "prices" continue to shift. In particular, the pressure to attract and retain talent is familiar to American mayors and business operators across the country.  In addition to creating recreation amenities, urban riverfronts also create collective open space that draws the eye through the city landscape. When perceived as safe and clean, access to river frontages creates substantial property value and economic potential. In addition to moving things in and out, the role of some riverfronts has expanded to focus on use as open space magnets that  make places more distinct and attractive. 

Our river, the Mississippi, formed and shapes both Minneapolis and St. Paul in important ways. Earlier this year, a team to which I served as regional advisor won the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition, now evolved into the Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative. I've been engaged for several months managing a project focused on strengthening the connection of downtown Minneapolis to the Mississippi via the Gateway. Comparable efforts have been underway in St. Paul over the last twenty years, including the Great River Park master plan developed in the last year. This subject, conveniently, presents an opportunity for field work: I'm looking forward to August visits to Roman river towns Maastricht, Ghent, and London.

Open space and riverfronts cannot by themselves replace key economic functions such as port activities. Still, as larger forces transform cities, the prominence and role of rivers continue to be key in distinguishing prosperous regions.

Photo courtesy of pmarkham/Flickr.

Donjek Projects: Victory in the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition!

One of multiple reasons for my extended silence on the Cents of Place blog has been my involvement in the intense exercise of the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition. I posted in early November that my team, led by Kennedy and Violich Architecture (KVA) of Boston and the Tom Leader Studio of Berkeley, had been among four teams selected from over fifty to engage in a second round of competition.

FP12 This morning, the competition's supporters and sponsors (including the Walker Art Center, the University of Minnesota's College of Design, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, and others) gathered on Nicollet Island to announce that our team is the winner of the competition!

The process, inside our team, unfolded like a charette, only on a broader and deeper scale than I’ve seen before. Since early November, this team pulled together volumes to inform a thorough approach to a complicated river corridor. There are many meeting points in the project area that each represent opportunities: Where North meets Northeast, river meets shores, trails meet bridge heads, industrial meets other land uses, central business district meets neighborhoods. Hydrology, bridge design, area culture and history (indigenous, pioneer and more recent), land use economics, institutions, equity of access to parks – these topics and many others received focused, research-driven attention. Led by Tom Leader, and Sheila Kennedy and Frano Violich of KVA, this team produced an innovative approach to tie these issues all together in physical space.

FP13 It's a privelege to be a member of this team. I've also marveled at the compelling mix of collaborators who made this possible, from the sponsors to standout project manager Mary DeLaittre. That we will together have the opportunity to continue working, focused on a particular site to be determined on the Upper River in Minneapolis, promises to be a professional highlight.

See the final proposal here.

Donjek Projects: Part of Finalist Team in Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition


I am very pleased to announce that I will be participating in a final round of competition in the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition as part of a team led by the Tom Leader Studio and Kennedy and Violich Architecture. The competition is facilitated by a collaborative of arts, design and open space organizations, and will culminate in public presentations by the four teams selected as finalists. Other firms on the team are ConsultEcon and Sherwood Engineers.

The collaborative of sponsors is a unique and creative one, including the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Minneapolis Parks Foundation, University of Minnesota College of Design, and the Walker Art Center. The competition's project manager is the inventive Mary deLaittre of Groundwork City Building

I joined the team with enthusiasm and I'm pleased to report that Donjek and its collaborators have been selected as one of four finalist teams, chosen from 55 applicants. According to Bill Morrish, a jury member for the competition and Dean of the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons the New School of Design (and founding director of the University of Minnesota's Metropolitan Design Center), the competition drew interest of teams hailing from fourteen countries across five continents. 

Teams will converge on Minneapolis late this month, and submission and public presentation of ideas will be presented in late January. The role of Donjek is to provide public finance and economic expertise, as well as local, regional and historic context to inform the ambitious goals of the team. Stay tuned for more details about our proposal! 

Revelations in Milwaukee: Historic Reuse, Natural-Lit Parking and Free Parking


I’ve returned from a recent junket to fair Milwaukee. I hadn’t been to Milwaukee
in fifteen years, and parts of the city have changed dramatically since
then. Two examples and a policy

• I noticed on my tour of the lakeshore, the vital reuse of
the Milwaukee River Flushing Station (pictured). Alterra Coffee (in combination with the
Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Milwaukee County)
rehabilitated the station, which was built in 1888 to flush sewage harbored in
the river into Lake Michigan. Does this strike you as an ironic piece of
infrastructure to reuse as a coffee shop?

In fact, it works conspicuously well. The building remains owned by the sewerage
district (“MMSD”), and the county owns all land from the periphery of the
building to the edge of the site. The physical
structure is aligned with its new mission: Pervious pavement and water filtration systems are narrated on displays constructed
by the county’s parks department. The
building’s lakeshore location is not surprisingly home to a brisk business
moving excellent food and coffee; Alterra also sponsors a music series with
wares ranging from opera to Latin American.

Special thanks to Bill Robison, Principal at Engberg Anderson,
an architecture firm with offices in Milwaukee, Madison and Tucson. As the lead architect on this reuse project,
Bill partnered with Alterra, MMSD and the county, and generously responded to
my recent cold inquiry about its development.

Milwaukee Art Museum’s
renovation and expansion includes dramatic architecture and serves the need for
a much-enhanced connection between downtown and Lake
Michigan. Of course, as
principal of a public finance and transportation consulting firm, I was most
drawn to the Milwaukee_parking
underground parking garage lit with skylights (also pictured). Facilities Director Charles Loomis explained
that sensors evaluate the quality of light admitted through the skylights and
adjust the use of lighting to supplement, creating significant (but to date unquantified)
energy cost savings to the museum.  And to preempt your question before you read below, museum parking is not free.

• A recent post at Urban
cited SBT and Colliers data showing the median metered hourly
parking rate in downtown Milwaukee is $0.63, versus a national average of $1.48. Author Jeramey Jannene suggests an oversupply of metered parking
downtown has suppressed redevelopment efforts: The zoning code requires structured
parking in site plans, which represents a mandate to lose money in an
environment with an oversupply of cheap on-street parking.

In St. Paul,
a very different discussion is taking place regarding the anticipated loss of
roughly 85% of on-street parking on University Avenue as light rail transit is added to the
street’s modes. At the same time, the
Metropolitan Council has indicated their wish to discourage the building of
structured parking just off the avenue in order to avoid the avenue’s use as a
park-and-ride. Arguably, the main impact
of this move is to drive up land values and favor those who control larger
parcels near University. It also highlights
the importance of the type of transportation consulting that Donjek’s Dan Walsh
can provide, including analysis and negotiation for structured parking, shared
parking, and travel demand management (TDM).

The travel log would remain incomplete without noting our visit to Sprecher Brewery, where I sampled their very fine Shakparo beer, fermented according to an African protocol using bananas.  The beer tent in Milwaukee continues to get bigger and bigger!

Photo of Milwaukee River Flushing Station: Retinal Fetish, Flickr. Parking garage photo: J. Commers