Notes from the Road

3 min read

Earlier this week I returned from Minneapolis, the third stop on the NH&RA Preservation Through Energy Efficiency Road Show series. Having been born and raised in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, I haven’t spent much time in the upper Midwest, and was really struck by the creativity of local developers in adaptively reusing the local historic infrastructure and the remarkable local commitment to sustainability.

Example of Transformation

The Minneapolis Mill District is a great example of how historic preservation has transformed a former industrial neighborhood that had sat dormant for a generation into a mixed-income, mixed-use cultural hub. The investment of local developers like Dominium and Sherman Associates has also spurred new infill development, ranging from newly constructed apartments and hotels, all the way to museums and performance arts centers. It’s a testament to the transformative power of the historic tax credit in the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, and across the country.

Historic preservation isn’t the only thing going for Minnesota, either. The state is also a leader in providing tools and resources to improve the utility efficiency of older properties. Under the leadership of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (thanks again for hosting our Road Show) and the stewardship of advocates such as Fresh Energy and the Center for Energy and Environment, the state can boast some of the most robust utility-sponsored energy incentives for multifamily residential and commercial properties, including affordable housing. Owners of historic commercial assets as well as multifamily affordable rental housing can look to CenterPoint, Minnesota Energy Resources and Xcel for a diverse menu of rebates, appliance direct install programs, energy assessments and more. Similar programs that are operated by Alliant Energy and Focus On Energy serve Iowa and Wisconsin. When you have annual temperature swings of as much as 130 degrees and an aging building stock, these resources can make a huge difference.

Dominium’s Pillsbury A-Mill Project

Historic preservation and sustainability intersect right on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis with Dominium’s redevelopment of the Pillsbury A-Mill. The landmark structure dates back to 1881 and was at one point the world’s largest flour mill. Currently under construction, the new “A-Mill Artist Lofts” will offer 251 affordable artist units. And if all goes according to plan, the mill’s original water infrastructure will be harnessed to generate hydrothermal energy to heat and cool the buildings and ideally, also produce hydroelectric power.

It is both exciting and refreshing to see such innovation in the field, especially as action in Washington moves at a snail’s pace. It has inspired me to redouble our efforts and I hope these projects will serve as a model for other jurisdictions and developers for years to come.

Thom Amdur is Associate Publisher of Tax Credit Advisor and Executive Director of National Housing & Rehabilitation Association