Developers have sought the Northrup King Building (NKB) for some time, but its fate became more clear Friday, Sept. 13 with Artspace’s announcement that it will acquire the former seed company headquarters.
Senior Vice President of Properties for Artspace, Greg Handberg, told the Northeaster that their priority is preserving the existing artists space and expanding arts activities on the 1500 Jackson St. NE site, while having no specific plans for what is now about 235,000 square feet of undeveloped space in eight vacant structures. The developed area houses approximately 317,000 square feet of commercial space, working artist studios and galleries.
Artspace bought, built and operates multiple buildings in the Twin Cities and across the country where artists live and/or work, including Artspace Jackson Flats apartments and the Grain Belt buildings at 77 and 79 13th Ave. NE, that house studios and businesses.
NKB manager Debbie Woodward sent letters notifying tenants. She told the Northeaster that she had approached Artspace after it became clear that other developers might have said they were for the artists, but with Artspace “it is their mission” to (from Artspace’s statement) create, foster and preserve affordable and sustainable space for artists and arts organizations. “It was a patient process,” she said, “about a year and a half looking at this thing.”
“For us, we’ll be spending time with our tenants to make sure they’re comfortable, extend leases, etc.” She said she’d been receiving many “beautiful emails” with gratitude that the building would stay for the arts. NKB was hers to run for 23 years.
At the building, some are taking a “wait and see,” with questions to be answered at two tenant-only meetings. Others are worried about rents eventually increasing; others are excited.
Loretta Bebeau said she makes, stores and sells a volume of work from a space that is not likely to be able to share with another artist. If she is displaced, “my career is done.”
Rollie Reis-Mather, of Goldenflow and Artactile Gallery, said Woodward “knew the artists so well, instinctively knew who should have what space. A new person isn’t going to know that. But also, “I’m looking forward to seeing Artspace take it to the next level, like putting in a coffee shop or restaurant would be great.”
Woodward said the parties have been meeting weekly to share information about how the building runs. It’s expected that the maintenance staff will stay on and be supplemented by Artspace’s team.
She would be available for questions but not be on site, looking forward to “taking a little break and deep cleaning my house.” The death of her father, building owner Jim Stanton – Shamrock Properties, and the need to settle his estate put any of her and her husband Paul Woodward’s ideas about hiring people and making changes on hold.
Woodward said she looks forward to how the new owners piece it all together and make it work. She doesn’t want to tie their hands by extracting promises. “They’ll know what’s right for their moment in time.”
The purchase agreement for the Northrup King Building would not have advanced without a partnership with Intermedia Arts, which is providing $1 million in grant funding in support of the acquisition. In a news release from Artspace, Intermedia Arts Board Co-chair Omar Akbar stated, “Intermedia Arts is honored to support Artspace in preserving and expanding affordable space for the broader Twin Cities creative community. We believe this is a powerful way to preserve Intermedia Arts’ vision, and invest in the future of emerging and underrepresented artists in Minneapolis for generations.”
Intermedia Arts sold its South Minneapolis building, and a portion of the proceeds will go into the deal, which still has some details to work out but is expected to close by the end of 2019.
In the news release, Minneapolis Ward 1 Council Member Kevin Reich is quoted: “The Northrup King Building is a cornerstone of the Arts District; a foundational element of the District’s history and its current activity. I applaud the next phase for this iconic building … Artspace has been a longstanding partner in growing our Arts District, which gives me great confidence going forward.”
To say that Woodward sounded “upbeat” on the phone would be an understatement. Handberg spoke glowingly, “Debbie and the family are so committed to the arts. The building could have been sold ten times faster and for more money. It is humbling to be able to do this here, and it’s important to do it nationally.”
Below: A popular Instameet Jan. 9, 2016 brought dozens of people into a Northrup King boiler room. (Photo by Margo Ashmore)