Building Buzz: April 29 - May 3

We're reading the headlines so you don't have to.

From Nordic Ware's solar facade to Minnesota's $980-million bonding bill and 'fab lab' grants in Wisconsin to expanding prevailing wage mandates, here's what was buzzing in the building world the week of April 29 - May 3, 2024:


Minnetonka assisted-living facility plans 81-unit expansion
Stonecrest Living, the Minnetonka-based operator behind The Landings of Minnetonka, is proposing to expand its existing facility with a 4-story, 81-unit addition. Stonecrest is expected to present a sketch plan to the city's Planning Commission. Units in the new addition would include studios and one-bedroom units, according to the concept plan. The building addition would replace an existing 5-stall garage on the property. (Minneapolis - St Paul Business Journal)

Nordic Ware's headquarters features solar façade
Blaine-based Cedar Creek Energy partnered with Nordic Ware on the array, which generates about 450,000-kilowatts of electricity for the kitchenware company's energy-intensive manufacturing building at 5005 Highway 7. In an unusual twist, the solar project team installed the panels on the façade instead of the roof --- an approach that made sense in part because multiple building expansions had created a "patchwork" of roof lines, according to Cedar Creek, a Blaine-based designer and installer of sun-powered energy systems. (Finance & Commerce)

Single-family housing starts up, multi-family down in April
Momentum continues to build for single-family housing starts in the Twin Cities as April brought another big jump in local building activity. But the slump for apartment construction continues. During the past month, cities in the 13-county metro area permitted 656 new housing units overall (up 5% from April 2023), including 541 new single-family homes (up 40%) and 115 new multi-family units (down 51%), according to the Keystone Report, which tracks permits in the 13-county metro area. The combined value of permits is $208.9-million (up 28%). (Finance & Commerce)

'Workforce Hub' designation to boost Milwaukee's efforts to replace lead pipes
The White House announced Milwaukee as one of four new Workforce Hubs under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to reduce its timeline for replacing 100% of its lead pipes from 60 years to 10 years in the latest proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule, federal officials said. The EPA and Department of Transportation will help train workers and scale up the workforce for lateral replacements, but it's not clear yet how much money is included. The White House named upstate New York, Michigan, and Philadelphia as three other hubs. (Finance & Commerce)


MAC names new director of governmental affairs
The Metropolitan Airports Commission, which oversees Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport and other Twin Cities airports, selected Dana Nelson to serve as director of governmental affairs. She will act as an intergovernmental liaison with federal, state and local governments on behalf of MAC. (Minneapolis - St Paul Business Journal)

Panel says future of CRE is mixed-use, conversions
During a panel discussion hosted by MNCAR about the revitalization of commercial real estate after the pandemic, panelists discussed how the industry can tackle the problems presented by the exodus of office workers to the hybrid work-from-home model. Most solutions revolve around redevelopment and use-conversion. Dan Salzer, the director of development for Scannell's Twin Cities office and a panelist, talked through how many suburban office campuses no longer have a demand for the space they currently have and have been downsizing. The result, Salzer said, is that these sprawling campuses are rezoned to mixed-use and become sites for industrial development and new housing. (Finance & Commerce)

Testifiers offer mixed reviews for $980M bonding bill
Testifiers of at the meeting of the House Capital Investment Committee took turns at the lectern to praise the $980-million bill for funding their projects --- or, in many cases, to complain that the measure doesn't go far enough to address needs such as deferred maintenance. The committee was expected to take a vote the morning of May 1st. Requiring a three-fifths majority for passage, bonding needs to get buy-in from both sides of the aisle. (Finance & Commerce)

Xcel sells land in Minnesota for $1B data center
Elk River Technologies LLC, previously identified as the mystery company behind a plan to build the data center at Xcel's Sherco site, purchased the 348-acres for &7.97-million, according to a public filing with the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Plans for the sale --- as well as the potential dollar value of the project --- were disclosed in 2022. In a statement, Xcel reiterated the scope of the development, issuing a statement calling it "a $1-billion capital investment in the Becker community." Xcel confirmed the sale, adding that Elk River Technologies' data center project would create 100 high-paying permanent jobs and more than 1,200 construction jobs. (Minneapolis - St Paul Business Journal)


Artist apartment project bonds move to council
The Minneapolis Business, Housing and Zoning Committee approved up to $31-million of tax-exempt multi-family housing revenue bonds for the Northrup King Residential project at 1460 and 1464 Van Buren Street Northeast. The income-restricted, affordable housing project will have 84 units and 8,100-square-feet of commercial space. The reconstruction is on the Northrup King Campus and will span three of the buildings. Public documents say 23 of the units will have one bedroom, 35 will have two bedrooms and the remaining 26 will have three bedrooms. (Finance & Commerce)

Despite numerous challenges, electric air taxis could arrive by early 2025
Imagine a future with nearly silent air taxis flying above traffic jams and navigating between skyscrapers and suburban drone ports. Transportation arrives at the touch of your smartphone and with minimal environmental impact. This isn't just science fiction. United Airlines has plans for these futuristic electric air taxis in Chicago and New York. The U.S. military is already experimenting with them. And one company has a contract to launch an air tax service in Dubai as early as 2025. Another company hopes to defy expectation and fly participants at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Electric aviation promises to alleviate urban congestion, open up rural areas to emergency deliveries, slash carbon emissions and offer a quieter, more accessible form of short-distance air travel. (Finance & Commerce)

Half a million in 'fab lab' grants for Wisconsin STEAM students
Governor Tony Evers and Missy Hughes, secretary of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) announced nearly $500,000 in "fab lab" grants to 18 school districts statewide for student training for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) skills. A fab lab, short for fabrication laboratory, is a workshop equipped with computer-controlled manufacturing elements such as 3D printers and laser engravers. In 2016, WEDC started the Fab Labs Grant Program to support equipment purchases to educate K-12 students. (Finance & Commerce)

Historical society faces uphill fight to preserve Richfield's oldest home
From the uneven wood floors and buckling walls to the badly deteriorated roof, Riley Bartholomew's former home needs extensive work. But finding money to make those repairs --- or to even get a detailed cost estimate --- is a heavy lift for the Richfield Historical Society, which functions on the efforts of one part-time employee and a handful of volunteers. Bartholomew, a founding father of Richfield and public servant who chaired the committee charged with naming the city, probably had no idea that people would still be talking about his modest little home more than 170 years after it was built --- and fighting desperately for its future. (Finance & Commerce)

House panel approves bonding bill
The House Capital Investment Committee approved the $980-million bonding bill, which will no go before the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee also signed off on House File 5162, which offers $38.7-million in general fund money for various projects. Heavy on asset preservation, the bonding bill supports projects ranging from upkeep of higher education buildings to bridge improvements across the state. (Finance & Commerce)

Panel urges city financial support for retail development
The panel, presented by the Minnesota Shopping Center Association, discussed how the interest rate environment became so difficult so quickly that building became a difficult choice for many assets. However, commercial retail developments are not receiving the local tax increment financing or other financial help that a multi-family asset might see. (Finance & Commerce)


House OKs bill that expands prevailing wage requirements
House File 5242, approved by a 60 to 60 vote on the House floor, allocates nearly $79-million in trunk highway funds to a variety of transportation projects, much of which would go to "high-priority" bridges ($40-million) and facilities improvements ($20.1 million). But union leaders and contractor representatives are paying particular attention to the bill's labor provisions, including language that would expand prevailing wage mandates to certain multi-family housing projects receiving Low-Income House Tax Credits (LIHTC) or Tax Increment Financing. (Finance & Commerce)

Wisconsin groups support next generation of STEM workers
Contractors, utilities and public officials had something to offer to local students interested in construction and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Different groups awarded scholarships, recognition and partnerships to schools and students interested in construction and STEM fields. One partnership between contactors and a school will create a new learning laboratory at a Wauwatosa high school, officials said. Here's what groups did the week of April 29-May 3 to support the next generation. (Finance & Commerce)


Dunn Bros. Coffee plans franchising expansion to 250 locations
Twin Cities coffeehouse chain Dunn Bros. is planning a major franchise expansion, with a goal of reaching 250 stores in the next five years. Trade publication QSR has a report on the effort by Minneapolis-based Dunn Bros. Coffee, which currently has about 50 stores in seven states. About half of those locations are in Minnesota. The chain would likely building out its presence in its existing markets like Texas, the Dakotas, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin. Because coffee is so baked into peoples' morning routines, drive-thrus are "going to be essential for the growth pattern moving forward, because consumers want to grab their stuff and go in the morning." (Minneapolis - St Paul Business Journal)

Nearly 300 apartments planned for Shoreview brownfield site
Enclave Properties is going before the City Council with its plans to develop 295 affordable and market-rate apartments and 4,500-square-feet of commercial space on the city-owned brownfield site at 3377 Rice Street, the former home of a Ramsey County public works facility. The 11-acre site needs about $1-million worth of additional cleanup to bring it to residential standards. The developer hopes to begin construction as soon as this fall. (Finance & Commerce)

Labor & Workforce Projects to Watch