Built on the East Bank of the Mississippi River in 1881, the Pillsbury A-Mill Artist Lofts utilized power derived from the river to drive its mill. Once the world’s largest flour milling operation, the facility produced flour until 2003. The building deteriorated as the mill sat vacant and was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2011 list of Most Endangered Places. After a lengthy process of financing, design and renovations, it reopened in 2015 as the affordable A-Mill Artist Lofts, situated in a lively residential and commercial community on the Mississippi riverfront.
The adaptive reuse of the historic site into 251 affordable artist live-work apartments involved rehabilitating the original buildings. The project team painstakingly retained or restored a majority of the historic features of the original mill including the character-defining buildings and structures, canopies, windows, rail lines, notably the buttresses and bowed front façade that defined its character for decades.
The units include a mix of studios, 1, 2, 3 and 4-bedroom lofts, averaging 1,000 SF. Due to the historic nature of the building and the large floor plates, residents choose from over 80 different floor plans, many with designated art nooks. A-Mill offers 30,000 SF of studio and common area space for residents to pursue their craft. Artist amenities include a performance hall, paint studio, dance studio, multi-media and music practice studios, photography studio and large flex studios. A-Mill also features common areas such as clubrooms, fitness and multi-purpose spaces to foster cross-pollination of creative ideas.
When residents turn on the lights in the A-Mill Artist Lofts, their electricity is generated just a few floors below them. The A-Mill Artist Lofts Hydroelectric Project provides clean, renewable energy by using the same infrastructure that was constructed more than 130 years ago for milling grain. Today, the original water raceway tunnels are reused and a new pipe transports water to a drop shaft within the A-Mill. From there, the water descends 40 feet to power a turbine to create electricity, heating, cooling and hot water for the complex. The generator provides over 70% of the entire complex’s peak power needs.
Another exciting feature of A-Mill is the woonerf. A-Mill was served by the Great Northern Railroad, which delivered grain to and transported flour from the facility. Today, this rail corridor has been transformed into a private shared street – called a woonerf – to the north of the building. The woonerf combines the original rails with pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular traffic in a landscaped area that becomes a public way through the site. The landscaping displays salvaged artifacts that visually capture the complex’s story about how wheat was brought to the Mill and the artifacts and processes used to create the flour.
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Partners: BKV Group; Weis Builders; US Bank; Cornerstone; Enhanced Historic Credit Partners; Dougherty & Company LLC; Affordable Housing Partners; Hennepin County; Minneapolis City of Lakes; Winthrop Weinstine; Braun Intertec; HDR; MN DNR; Minnesota Historical Society; MacRostie Historic Advisors LLC; National Park Service; Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Hess Roise; Loucks; Kennedy & Graven; Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board; Stinson Leonard Street; Commercial Partners; Sustology; Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.; Marcy Holmes; Macdonald & Mack Architects; St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board, Schuler Shook