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Chapter Two of the Crown Roller Mill Story

Above - 1985 - West Front, Looking East - Crown Roller Mill

The redevelopment of the Crown Roller Mill block was a major accomplishment and one of many important turning points in the redevelopment of the Mill District.

By Ann Calvert, Principal Project Coordinator, City of Minneapolis

By the time of the October 1983 Crown Roller Mill fire, the City’s redevelopment agency, the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA), had started its work to redevelop the riverfront and thus played an active role in the post-fire redevelopment of the Crown. (The MCDA was later folded into the City’s Community Planning and Economic Development Department.) As groundwork, the geographic area that includes the Crown had been included in the Industry Square Redevelopment Project when it was created in 1973, and the original Mills District Plan had been approved in January of 1983.

After participating in the effort to save the Crown Roller Mill from demolition after the fire, the MCDA selected a firm called Hayber (Howard Bergerud and Greg Hayes) to develop the Crown and the rest of the block. MCDA acquired the Crown property along with the other portions of the block not already owned by Hayber and then sold the assembled property to the developer in 1985. The assistance provided to the project included revenue bond financing, a federal grant and tax increment financing.

The entire block was dubbed the “Whitney Mill Quarter,” the components of which included the conversion of the former Standard Mill into the Whitney Hotel (now the Whitney Historic Residences), the conversion of the Ceresota grain elevator into the Ceresota offices and the rebuilding of the fire-damaged Crown Roller Mill into the office building you see today. The development also included the underground service facility shared by the block and both the upper and lower plazas. The various components were completed between 1985 and 1988.

If you look closely at the outside of the Crown, you can see the faint line where new replacement brick was added above the lower parts of the walls that had survived the fire. The mansard roof is entirely new, but replicates a mansard roof that had originally existed on the building. The interior of the building (including the lower parking levels) is basically a new building that was constructed within the rebuilt exterior walls.

The other components of the block also presented major rehabilitation challenges. The Standard Mill had spent some time during its years of decline as an animal rendering plant and “stunk to high heaven.” The Ceresota project required the removal of the interior dividing walls that created the vertical grain silos (without the outside walls collapsing), the insertion of floors and the use of an interior skylit atrium and carefully placed windows to get some light into the windowless structure.

Above: Second Street South looking downriver from just upriver of Portland; General Mills elevators to left in distance, c. mid-1980s

At the time the block was developed, the area around it was still extremely rough and had little infrastructure. Second Street was filled with rail lines and wasn’t a true street at all, so the MCDA worked with Public Works to start creating a street grid for the Mill District. By that time, the last area property that was still served by rail was a pair of General Mills grain elevators at Second Street and Tenth Avenue. At the end of the harvest season, the line of rail cars that came to fill the elevators with oats extended all the way down Second to in front of the planned Whitney Hotel. Another way the MCDA assisted the Whitney Mill Quarter development was to invest almost $9 million to acquire those grain elevators so that the rail service could be stopped and Second Street could be built by the time the hotel opened.

The MCDA once again stepped in to save the Crown Roller Mill in 1991. The Crown had opened as offices at a low point in the real estate economy, and the area around it, while improving, was still considered questionable. The building had not been able to secure tenants and was sinking under the burden of real estate taxes and debt payments. The MCDA’s lease was expiring, so it agreed to move its offices to the Crown in exchange for advantageous rent terms and has remained an anchor tenant since then.

Ann Calvert, is Principal Project Coordinator with the City of Minneapolis and has been a key player in the redevelopment of the Mill District.

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