The Mill District, also identified as Downtown East by planners, incorporates many of the historic West Bank industrial structures that made Minneapolis the world's leading grain miller in the late 1800s. More than anywhere else in Minneapolis, or the entire region, for that matter, this is a place undergoing spectacular transformation. The new Guthrie Theater forms the district centerpiece, supported by the Mill City Museum, which rises from the romantic ruins of the historic Washburn "A" Mill.
Although the Mill District officially extends south to Fifth Street—bordered on the east and west by I-35W and by Portland Avenue—the current action occurs north of Washington, especially along both sides of First Street. Hundreds of condos and apartments have recently been completed or are under development along the street. Prior to the current redevelopment, the district's permanent residential population was less than 100. Today, as measured by percentage of change, the growth is phenomenal.
The core of these pioneering residents seem to be classic affluent empty nesters in their 40s through 60s. The attraction to people who could live anywhere is easy to understand: a singular physical environment overlooking the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls, next-door culture at the Guthrie, a growing number of nearby restaurants, living close to Downtown and minutes from Orchestra Hall and the Hennepin theater district, and within walking distance to the University, either down Washington Avenue or across the Stone Arch Bridge. Still, even more than the sum of these appealing attributes, the Mill District is currently energized by the sheer excitement of transformative change.
Bridgewater, 215 10th Avenue South, Minneapolis
Located only a few blocks from the Mississippi, Bridgewater Lofts combines the charm of the historic riverfront setting with the amenities of modern day living. This building offers a diverse selection of floor layouts which are distinguished by large, open areas and flowing plans. Furthermore, to ensure an extra degree of privacy bedrooms have been zoned to opposite ends of each unit. Bridgewater Lofts offers a sense of refinement with sophisticated cabinetry, domestic-quality hardwood floors, and top-end finishes. The location of the building boasts a phenomenal panorama with some key sights being the downtown skyline, Gold Medal Park, the Stone Arch Bridge, the Pillsbury “A” Mill, and the new Guthrie Theater. All of these views can be seen from the top floor of the building which also offers an entertainment room, workout center, and outdoor patio/swimming pool.
Humboldt Lofts, 750 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis
Humboldt Lofts is a keenly modern building set in the Mill District. The exterior of the building complements the new Guthrie which is across the street. Although the Riverfront is undergoing radical change at an astonishing rate, classic landmarks such as St. Anthony Main, Hennepin Island Park, and the Pillsbury “A” Mill are nearby. Living units have large floor area, 12-foot ceilings, and full-height windows which illuminate living spaces with sunlight.
Metropolitan Lofts, 545 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis
This chic residential hotel originally constructed in 1927 upholds the refined standards of conventional American culture prior to the war. After purchasing summer residences in the north woods and winter homes in California, Lowry Hills’ privileged couldn’t resist flocking to Groveland’s upscale, yet unique aesthetic. While the stone exterior retains a quiet magnificence, the interior of 510 Groveland’s remarkable lobby and lounge opens up into an equally impressive four-star restaurant built in 1978. Meticulous design can be appreciated in the first-rate woodwork and trim framing of each unit appropriately sized for everyday use. Great paned windows capture a wealth of light, and highlight vivid views of Downtown Minneapolis and nearby historic attractions. Convenient on-site parking is heated with 24-hour on-the-spot security.
North Star Lofts 117 Portland Avenue, Minneapolis
This 1997 residential conversion is arguably the signature mill building in the West Bank Mill District, if for no other reason than its splendid tower sign. North Star Lofts is marketed as a premium property, which is supported by skillful interior space planning, living units with ceilings as high as 24 feet, and location just above the Stone Arch Bridge, overlooking the Mississippi to the north, and Downtown to the south.
Park Avenue Lofts, 200 Park Avenue, Minneapolis
Admirably clean and modern, inside and out, Park Avenue Lofts fits into its Mill District setting because its barely embellished exterior walls, subtly enhance by coursing, recall the straightforward design ethic of authentic historic industrial structures. Inside, industrial references are limited to a relatively unobtrusive exposure of pipes and ducts. Living units range in size from a roomy 1,035 square feet in floor area to an expansive, 3,650 square-foot penthouse. That figure does not include the unit's 1,400 square-foot roof deck, itself nearly twice the floor area of a typical postwar developer's house.
The Portland Condominiums, 603 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis
This low-rise, high-style building is set apart from Mill District conventions. A dark base provides a solid visual anchor, so it appears physically substantial like the massive historic mill structures. Beyond that, the abstract patterning of openings and balconies signals that this is a contemporary buildings, one that should be appreciated as art. In this respect alone, the design differs from the deferential exteriors typical in historic districts. Living-unit plans are large but not oversized, ranging in floor area from 1,300 to 1,850 square feet. The Portland is scheduled to open in 2009.
The Zenith 910 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis
An integrated development of this block includes two phases of condominiums, plus a Starwood W Hotel. The Zenith is expressed in a bright red exterior framework, clearly relating architecturally to the glistening dark blue Guthrie Theater across Gold Medal Park. Both of these buildings abstract a flavor of the historic Mill District through ultra-modern design vocabularies. Within, Zenith living units are open in plan along the periphery and defined for bedrooms and baths, an ideal synthesis. The unit open spaces are loft-like, yet finished and polished, hence appealing to residents who are attracted to the Mill District but are not as enamored with exposed pipes and ducts.
Stone Arch Lofts, 600 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis
The architecture achieves a traditional feeling through contemporary expressions. Sheathed in brick, the exterior looks like an old building, but deep setbacks and the trellis-like constructions above balconies and on the roof deck are modern. Inside the living units, a carefully developed floor plan leads through a sequence of distinctly defined spaces to a balcony overlook of the Stone Arch Bridge directly below, and, of course, capturing a dramatic riverfront vista. Windows are nicely scaled, large enough to fill the units with light, while employing substantial mullions to ensure that residents do not feel exposed. Materials and finishes are first-rate, consistent with a high-end property. The riverfront location, down the street from the new Guthrie Theater, proximity to Warehouse-district restaurants and to Downtown are important features.