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Uptown Preserves Iconic Building for Affordable Urban Living

In Practice
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Uptown Preserves Iconic Building for Affordable Urban Living

Image of the Buzza Lofts lit up at night.
Buzza Lofts’ iconic exterior was preserved, including the “Buzza” text near the roof of the building. Image courtesy of Tom Thulen Photography.
The 30,000 residents of the Uptown neighborhood in Minneapolis live minutes from downtown and steps from the Twin Cities’ Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. Diverse restaurants and local and national retailers enliven the neighborhood’s central intersection at Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street. A few blocks east, eclectic galleries and theaters energize commercial buildings dating from the 1880s.

To be near these amenities, people of all ages and household types pay a premium for Uptown’s small-lot, single-family homes and apartment buildings. Forty percent of both renters and homeowners with mortgages pay more than 30 percent of their income to live in this desirable urban neighborhood. To address both the high demand and high cost of housing in Uptown, Minneapolis-based Dominium Development renovated an early twentieth century factory building as Buzza Lofts — 136 apartments offering modern, affordable living in the vibrant neighborhood.

Renovation Reflects Building’s History, Incorporates Modern Conveniences

Since its construction in 1907, the building at 1006 West Lake Street has housed disparate enterprises. The building originally housed the Self-Threading Needle Company and was purchased in the late 1920s by George Buzza, who added the iconic BUZZA sign to the building’s façade, for manufacturing Buzza Company greeting cards. The U.S. Department of War used the building as a factory during World War II, and from the 1970s through 2010, Minneapolis Public Schools used the facility for community education classes as well as an alternative high school. The National Park Service listed the building on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, the same year that Dominium, an owner, developer, and manager of multifamily properties, purchased and renovated the building for residential living.

Shane LaFave, senior development associate at Dominium, stresses the importance of preserving the historic building’s iconic exterior, in keeping with the National Park Service’s preservation priorities. Except for a new roof, the building’s exterior required only minor repairs and upgrades: patching stucco, resealing existing windows, and creating new window openings. Converting the building to residential use, however, involved replacing much of the interior, including demolishing numerous walls.

Image of the Buzza Lofts lobby.
The first floor of Buzza Lofts is dedicated to common areas, including lobbies (shown), a fitness center, and community room. Dominium Development designs their affordable properties to look similar to market rate complexes. Image courtesy of Tom Thulen Photography.
Dominium completed the renovation and construction work in less than a year, and Buzza Lofts opened in November 2012. All of the 136 loft units are reserved for households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income, from $35,280 for one occupant to $50,340 for four occupants. Monthly rents range from $870 for a studio to $1,115 for a two-bedroom unit. According to LaFave, Dominium’s affordable apartments are physically indistinguishable from market-rate housing. Units come equipped with amenities that include dishwashers and full-sized washers and dryers, and design elements such as 12-foot-high ceilings, stainless steel appliances, maple cabinetry, and walk-in closets. Buzza Lofts residents enjoy modern living at affordable rates with wireless internet in two resident lounges, a fitness center, and a rooftop terrace.

Dominium also included several sustainable features in the building and onsite. Apartment units come with low-flow water fixtures, ENERGY STAR®-rated appliances, and energy-efficient heating and lighting systems. Solar panels on the roof provide electricity for lighting and conditioning common areas, and with little need for irrigation onsite, roof runoff is collected and stored before being released into the city’s stormwater system. The building’s indoor bicycle storage space promotes bicycling and the project’s overall sustainability.

According to LaFave, Buzza Lofts’ location and quality generated the political and monetary support necessary for the $35 million project. Federal and state historic tax credit funds totaled almost $9.6 million. In addition, $10.6 million in low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) equity was used to finance the project, which is one of a few LIHTC properties in the area. Funding also included more than $9.8 million in tax-exempt bonds and $4.2 million in deferred developer fees. The Metropolitan Council and Hennepin County awarded $755,000 in grants for hazardous materials surveying and abatement and for soil remediation. The building also received an $89,000 rebate from the local utility company for the solar panels.

Apartments Add Affordable Living to Uptown

With vacancy rates for rental and owner-occupied units at just 2.0 and 2.7 percent, respectively, Uptown clearly needs more housing. According to LaFave, 500 people are on the waiting list for a unit at Buzza Lofts, reflecting a need for affordable rental housing in an area that the developer believes will remain in demand for years to come. LaFave adds, “Buzza fits very well into the general environment. The Buzza building has been in that neighborhood for over 100 years, so we just took something that already fit in the neighborhood and gave it new life.” Innovative adaptive use of the historic structure makes the most of Uptown’s character while providing much needed affordable housing.

Published Date: November 5, 2013

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.