By JILL SCHRAMM, Minot Daily News
MINOT, N.D. (AP) — Whether it’s the history, the solid building construction or simply a love for downtown, developers are taking interest in Minot’s core district.
Multiple renovation projects are in the works.
At 21 E. Central Ave., a three-story building with about 6,000 square feet on each floor is being converted into office space, with remodeling of the first floor for a potential tenant such as a food and beverage business. Building owner Kevin Black plans to locate his business, Creedence Energy, on the second floor.
Ryan and Jessica Ackerman with Aksal Group have completed some remodeling of their properties along First Street Southeast but continue to develop the buildings into future leasable space.
The building at 18 2nd St. NE, where Escape Point has been located on the second floor, is undergoing renovation of its first floor to make additional business space available. Chad Thompson with Norsk Brothers, which owns the Nodak Building, said part of the first floor is leased but another 1,800 square feet remains available.
Andrew and McKenna Gudmunson are converting the neighboring building into a new home for their business, 701 Realty, as well as creating additional office space.
The Gudmunsons and Thompson formed Auslander LLC, in tribute to Auslander Block, to buy the building on Second Street Southeast next to the Nodak Building. Henry Auslander was a German immigrant to Minot who had opened Minot’s first bakery in 1901 and became one of its most prominent citizens.
Gudmunson said the building captured his interest because it includes residential apartments on the second floor that he plans to have remain. Having a parking lot is another advantage, and the main floor was just the right size for remodeling.
“It wasn’t too big. It wasn’t too small that once we get done with it, we’re going to outgrow it right away, either,” he told the Minot Daily News.
Gudmunson said the goal is to return the building’s exterior to its original look. The interior will be industrial-look office space. His real estate office will be located in the back half of the main floor. The front half will remain for apartments for now but could eventually be turned into leased retail or office space. His contractors cut a hole in the concrete of the main floor to open up and bring light to the lower level for future use as office space.
The goal is to have the building ready to move into after Jan. 1.
Thompson said the renovation of the Nodak Building also has attempted to keep the historical look of the building built in 1916. The building maintains its original brick exterior.
“We didn’t alter anything on the inside,” Thompson added, noting the solid construction of the building.
The building began as a warehouse and storage facility, touted in a 1917 newspaper article as “one of the best buildings in the city … so substantial it will be used 100 years hence.”
It has had various uses over the years. Thompson said the building’s name comes from a former occupant, Nodak Machinery. The building housed Nodak Candy & Tobacco, a division of Dakota Drug, in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Nodak name has continued to stick.
Black’s building had opened in 1903 as Minot Grocery.
“It was actually a really important business for not just Minot but the entire northwest part of North Dakota, even into Canada and into eastern Montana, because it was the first store that was using rail to ship in produce. And so it was the first time really that they would get fresh produce out to western North Dakota, southern Saskatchewan and eastern Montana,” Black said. “So it actually had a pretty significant economic impact on the region when it opened.”
The grocery would offload product directly from trains on the rail going past its building.
Over the years, the building has seen multiple uses, from mattress sales to boat sales. It is remembered for serving most recently as Joseph’s School of Hair Design. Once the school closed, it became the owner’s personal storage for about 20 years.
The building’s previous owner, Floyd Roll, had installed new windows on the first and second floors and removed the exterior steel siding to expose the original brick.
“There’s no doubt that Floyd did a tremendous amount of work,” Black said. “When I approached him about buying this place, the one stipulation is I had to tell him what my vision was for it. It had to be a vision that he was aligned with.”
Black’s contractors installed new custom-made arched windows on the third floor. The entrance from First Street is being redone to include an accessible ramp. An old staircase and functioning but aged freight elevator were removed and will be replaced with a modern elevator that is up to building codes.
Contractors had to nearly rebuild a north wall, but numerous leftover bricks from the original construction were found in the basement for that work. Tuckpointing is being done to restore the exterior brick. The estimated half million bricks in the building’s original construction are believed to have come from the Davis brick factory in Burlington, according to construction project manager Tim Haider.
The interior brick and timber beams and columns are being restored as well. The best way to restore the wood has been with a baking soda sandblast. The brick, along with some columns and beams, were blasted with dry ice to clean them.
Rich Stahl of Stahl Masonry has been doing the brick work.
“We are fortunate to have Tim and Rich because it takes a tremendous amount of craftsmanship to bring back some of those older elements,” Black said.
The project is being handled largely by Minot businesses. Electric Service Co.is doing the electrical work, and Mowbray & Sons is handling plumbing and heating and air conditioning. RFS is putting in the fire suppression sprinklers.
“The building was in extremely good structural condition,” Black said. “But we’re basically stripping it down to the exterior walls – the structural elements – and starting from scratch. So that’s how you kind of eliminate a lot of the quirks is just get everything out of the building and start over. The exterior and the structural elements will be maintained, but it’ll really have a fresh, clean, new interior, so you’ll have that really nice blend. The whole concept of the building is to blend new elements with the old elements.”
The hope is to complete enough of the renovation by November to allow Creedence Energy to move in. Its second-floor offices will include a central, open area featuring the arched window above the building’s main entrance.
One piece of Roll’s design that the new owners are proud of is a picturesque, winding fire escape staircase on the back of the building that Black calls a metal work of art. Roll had the column and towers built and now the stairs and platforms also are in.
Kevin’s father and general contractor, Ken Black with Black Construction, finds the third floor to have a great appeal.
“It’s got the sloped roof to it,” he said, noting the higher ceiling on the north end and lower ceiling on the south end. “It’s got the arched windows. It’s really a nice space.”
The third floor is designed as three suites. A nonprofit and photography studio will be leasing two of the spaces.
During the renovation of the 117-year-old building, bits and pieces of its history made appearances. Contractors found an old battery with a patent-pending date of 1893, a hat reminiscent of the old drive-throughs, an unopened, sealed can of Copenhagen tobacco from 1910, along with jars, whiskey bottles and other asundry items.
“When you’re dealing with 100-year-old buildings, history is buried within the floors, within the walls and the ceilings, and it is interesting and kind of fun to uncover some of that,” said Ryan Ackerman. Among “finds” in one of the Aksal Group properties were 1920s Mason jars, old coins in the walls and an original sliding freight door that is being repurposed. A less pleasant surprise were buried kerosene fuel tanks and an old coal chute filled with concrete that needed to be bored through to install water lines for a sprinkler system.
Jessica Ackerman said it’s been fun to hear the stories of people who stop by their buildings with memories or handed-down stories.
“It is such a heartwarming thing,” she said. “Just hearing that has been great, so I can’t wait until the doors are open, and I assume we’ll be able to hear more of those stories because that means it has mattered in the past, and then we have a chance to still make this matter.”
“We are trying to preserve the historic materials whenever it’s practical,” Ryan Ackerman said. “Redeveloping these buildings is a very expensive proposition, and the more that you try and preserve, generally speaking, the more expensive that it gets.
The Ackermans particularly are working to maintain the old brick where possible. The brick itself tells stories. The three-story High Third building next to the building housing Prairie Sky Breads experienced two fires in the early 1900s, and the char remains visible on some of the brick.
The High Third building had housed Northwestern Supply Co. and Troy Laundry. The second and the third floors were built as a hotel annex for the Leland Parker Hotel and housed workers. When they began work, the Ackermans said, it appeared that portion of the building hadn’t been touched since the 1950s, with bed frames and clawfoot bathtubs still in place in some cases.
Work on the shell of the building and utilities is scheduled to be completed by September, readying the buildings for finishing to the needs of tenants. Aksal Group’s three buildings have been reconnected as they were years ago, with doors between each of the buildings.
The single-story building was constructed by the Tri-State Land Co., the real estate arm of the Soo Line Railroad. It housed the Ward Fruit Co., which distributed produce to regional groceries. It became the Sears Farm Store, and the Tollefsons later purchased the building for their furniture business in the 1960s.
Both the High Third and Tollefson buildings were built more than 100 years ago.
As a real estate investment, there are better opportunities because rehabilitating an old building is not easy nor cheap, Ryan Ackerman said.
“In order to justify this, you need to be passionate about the outcome,” he said. “We believe in downtown Minot as a core of this community. It is the most unique part of town, and it is something that people can connect to on a very personal level when they’re down there. I think people get very passionate about the history. You’re not going to find that anywhere else.”
Jessica Ackerman said it is the collective of downtown development that becomes an economic engine for the community.
“That’s what’s really satisfying for us is to see properties around us getting redeveloped,” Ryan Ackerman added. “It’s very satisfying to see other passionate people investing in downtown.”
The Ackermans see lots of opportunity left in downtown Minot for anyone who catches the vision.
“We hope others are inspired to get involved and I think it just takes maybe looking a little bit differently at the buildings that are down there and then maybe it’s just having that conversation with the property owner, and you might find a good match,” Jessica Ackerman said.
Kevin Black also hopes more people will take interest in downtown, given the financial assistance that is available.
“Renaissance Zones are incredibly important to help finance these projects, and there’s a lot of other really good economic development tools, like the Business Accelerator Fund through the Souris Basin Planning Council,” Black said. “Minot, I think, is making some really positive strides in the right direction to incentivize folks to come in and redevelop and rehabilitate these older buildings. Hopefully, more will continue to do that.”
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