Designing the future

From the streetscape to the skyline, architecture is the most visible aspect of the ongoing transformation of Downtown, which Jack Boarman calls the city’s “high renaissance phase.”

After nearly 30 years of community-focused design and planning, Boarman and his team at North Loop-based BKV Group, 222 N. 2nd St., are involved in some of the city’s premier development projects.

The city has approved BKV’s Eitel Hospital plan for apartments, retail and a 39-foot story condo tower near Loring Park. Another full-block, mixed-use project, the North Loop’s Pacific Flats, is in the very early stages of planning.

These projects – as well as BKV’s Lagoon design in Uptown – are the blocks Boarman believes will build the livable, sustainable urban communities necessary for the city to thrive in the future.

“There is a demanding need to aggressively design the city for future growth,” Boarman said, “Or it will not grow, it will flatten out, and it will not be the place we like to visit and live in.”

Boarman was a student of late-’60s urban design movements such as the New Town in Town, which gave us Riverside Plaza, the multicolored apartment towers that rise just east of Downtown across I-35W.

From 1971 to 1974, Boarman cut his teeth on a planning team for a similar housing project just north of Riverside Plaza, which was never built. In 1978, he helped found BKV Group.

Now, Boarman sees BKV projects like the Eitel Hospital, Lagoon and Pacific Flats as extensions of his early philosophy of urban design that creates community.

“You can’t create a neighborhood out of buildings,” Boarman said, “but from the public spaces the buildings form. That’s what makes for a great city.”

Early plans for Pacific Flats, on the 200 block of Washington Avenue North, not only include a boutique hotel, rental apartments and condos, but community-serving retail, Boarman said, such as a community theatre or clinic.

When Chicago-based Magellan Development was looking for an architect for the Eitel project – its first in Minneapolis – President Dave Carlins said they asked around for someone well known whom neighbors would respect. “[Boarman’s] name came up several times,” Carlins said.

“He really took the lead with the neighborhood group, there’s no question,” Carlins said. Boarman spent a year working with a Loring Park task force on the Eitel project. “I think they struck a good balance between [Magellan’s] needs and what the neighborhood wanted.”

“It’s really clear in working with Jack that he cares about the city,” said Katie Hatt, who chaired the Eitel project task force for the neighborhood.

”He has a really strong commitment to working with the community.”

The end result, said Hatt, is a beautiful design that should work both aesthetically and functionally in the neighborhood.

“Good design starts with the neighborhood,” Boarman said. He was quick to credit his partners Mike Krych, Bill Baxley and Ted Redmond for BKV’s accomplishments over the past 28 years. Like Boarman himself, Redmond and Baxley are Southwest residents that have worked on designs and planning in that community: Baxley on the 10-story Lagoon condo/office/entertainment complex in Uptown, and Redmond on Whittier projects and a reuse study, commissioned by the Whittier Alliance, to revitalize underutilized areas along Nicollet Avenue between South 14th and Lake Streets.

With the Pacific Flats project, Boarman went early to the North Loop Neighborhood Association (NLNA), which last year gave its blessing for the renovation of BKV’s offices in the historic Grant Battery building, which Boarman owns.

“He has a lot of history with area,” said David Frank, chair of the NLNA’s Planning and Zoning Committee. “It shows his commitment, and I’m sure it’s part of the reason he is so committed.”

The North Loop “is becoming a Š community, as opposed to just an area adjacent to Downtown,” Boarman said.

He also promotes sustainable architecture that is ecologically sensitive, conserves energy and minimizes environmental impact. “It’s a matter of health, heredity and quality of life,” he said. “We have to renew those things so every generation has same quality we have.”

BKV’s designs embrace the past, as well as the future. Projects like the Eitel and Pacific Flats involve new construction around existing historic buildings. “The challenge is to make it look like it fits but not be obligated to the fabric of the past,” Boarman said.

A good design, Boarman said, balances aesthetics, sustainability and economic feasibility. He gave the example of housing and retail built around a parking structure to hide it from the street. Meanwhile, a courtyard is formed in the interior, where a raised green roof functions both as a stormwater runoff filter and a private plaza for residents.

Boarman noted that the mixed-use housing popping up in Southwest and downtown Minneapolis means little without one key element: people to live, shop, work and play in the area. In the North Loop especially, the current Downtown renaissance seems to offer them abundance.

“It’s an unbelievable time” to be an architect in Minneapolis, Boarman said. “This is what we’ve been working for in the neighborhood for 20 years.”