Artists and brewers under a solar array

Updated: April 6, 2012 - 3:46 pm

Eclectic group lined up for NE building

Much more than a taproom is coming to the former Nicollet Technologies Corporation building under renovation at 711 15th Ave. N.E.

The building doesn’t reopen until May, but the second floor above Indeed Brewing Company is almost entirely leased out. The new arrivals include a vintage clothing seller, a couple of photographers, an art restorer who works on Civil War flags and a group of what the owners call “rocket” scientists: Ph.D. students on contract with NASA, who want to work near creative types.

Elevated solar panels will cover the rooftop. A coffee shop is targeted for the ground floor. The wide-open third floor will host community events of all kinds.

“I thought this would be kind of a fun project,” said building co-owner Duane Arens, a Northeast resident and Connexus Energy employee who once worked in Gov. Arne Carlson’s office. “Art-A-Whirl is one of my favorite events of the whole year. It’s growing hand-over-fist, with more and more art.”

Arens and two other friends from high school are teaming up on the renovation. Their company is named the AL Tigers, because they went to school in Albert Lea under the Tiger mascot.

The project’s initial tip came from partner Tim Mershon, who noticed the building was in foreclosure and wanted to jump on the opportunity. Mershon previously bought the Erté building at 13th and University in 2001 and works at Northeast Realty.

“There is a real market for art [space],” he said. “The buildings around there are 100-percent full.”

To hear the owners tell it, the new building practically leased itself.

“We’re down to two [open] spots and we don’t even have the walls up,” Mershon said. “I need a new job.”

When the friends decided they wanted a brewery to anchor the building, they didn’t have to work too hard to find one. They simply emailed the Minnesota beverage and restaurant associations.

“Within an hour-and-a-half, three microbreweries were calling me,” Arens said.

Likewise, the owners have fielded four or five inquiries from potential coffee shops.

Before this renovation, the 1914 building had been home to manufacturers of transformers, rubber and tires. In the huge boiler room, the owners discovered cast iron doors that once contained coal to warm the building in winter. The cast iron doors will make a reappearance somewhere in the building.

“We want to keep the old character,” Arens said.

Preservation of character is a big reason why Arens wants to provide event space.

“When we looked at the third floor, we thought it was going to be a shame to put up walls,” he said, describing the extensive brick and wood throughout the building. Arens doesn’t expect to charge nonprofits and community groups for using the space. Instead, corporate events or even wedding parties could generate revenue.

On the rooftop, a solar array is set for installation next month. The Eden Prairie-based Blue Horizon Energy is installing 108 monocrystalline solar panels, and Senior Design Representative Bradley Hanson said the building will include a viewing area.

“You can walk up a couple of steps and see the whole array,” he said.

A monitoring station will demonstrate how the sun helps power the brewery downstairs.

Indeed Brewing will feature a taproom and outdoor patio as part of a factory that will crank out 3,800 barrels per year (led by award-winning brewmaster Josh Bischoff, a former lead brewer of Town Hall Brewery).

Incoming tenant Jenny Bachovchin said she thinks the solar array and brewery will create a fun work environment. She runs an online business selling vintage clothing, a collection she has amassed since she was a teenager in Duluth. She plans to use the studio to photograph clothing for her ads.

“I love where the building is situated along the railroad tracks,” she said. “It makes you feel nostalgic.”

Susan Wagner Ginter, an oil painter, is opening a studio in the building because she likes the location.

“It’s situated in a nice little confluence of art studio buildings,” she said.

Wagner Ginter is president of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, and she said the Fall Fine Arts Show would take place in the building this year.

“We’re very excited about that,” she said. “This gets people into a new section of the arts district. … From NEMAA’s point of view, we saw this as a sign that the area is growing, and that adds vitality to the area.”