In 1881, Charles Alfred Pillsbury fulfilled his ambition to build the largest and most advanced flourmill in the world. Designed by architect LeRoy S. Buffington, the building sits next to historic Saint Anthony Falls along the Mississippi River on the northeast side of downtown Minneapolis. Known as the Pillsbury A-Mill, it diverted water from the river to operate two direct-drive waterwheels that powered the mill’s operations. In 1966 the mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is now a National Historic Landmark.
Since it closed in 2003, local developers have proposed new uses for the massive limestone mill, as well as the adjacent “Warehouse 2” and a 1910 grain elevator known as the “red-clay-tile building.” In December, they finally found one. When completed, the new A-Mill complex will once again become a hub of innovation and industry—only this time it will be one driven by artists.
The first phase of the new A-Mill Artist Lofts opened in Warehouse 2—a four-story, brick veneer, wood-frame building. Spearheaded by Dominium, the project’s renovation and adaptive reuse was done by Minneapolis-based BKV Group. The other structures open for occupancy in July.
Created for artists who meet certain income guidelines, the LEED-certified complex includes 251 live/work units in addition to galleries, a performance and rehearsal space, and studios for dancers, visual and multi-media artists, photographers, and ceramicists.
BKV began with laser scans of the buildings, to determine where structures and floors did not line up and where components were missing, said project architect John Stark. In addition to shoring up and tuckpointing exterior masonry, structural repairs included new steel support columns—particularly in the A-Mill, where a new first floor was needed to stabilize the building. Floor leveling and joist repairs were also completed in the buildings.
Also in the A-Mill, the architects retained ceiling rings from the cylindrical flour bins that reached from floors two to six “for character,” said Stark. In Warehouse 2, new wood was stained to match the existing wood framing. Concrete floors were poured and units soundproofed.
Historic tax credits helped fund the project, which also meant the renovation was overseen by the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service. The red-clay-tile building posed particular challenges. The first eight floors are a windowless crawl space and were left as such, while a fitness room and social spaces were created below. On floors 8-12, the architects designed living units around existing openings “since we couldn’t create any new windows,” said Stark.
The complex will also have a roof deck with fire pits, landscaping, and expansive views of the Mississippi River and downtown Minneapolis. The iconic Pillsbury sign is being redone in LED lights to be more energy efficient. Also in the works is a hydroelectric heating and cooling system that would use water from the river, an existing tunnel, turbine pits, and tailraces beneath the complex to generate power.
That initiative, Stark said, “would make the complex largely self-sustaining.” It would also bring the mill’s history back to the future.