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The news website Axios had an alarming story recently: Vacancy rates in downtown Minneapolis may result in the demolition of an office tower, the Ameriprise Financial Center (707 2nd Av. ), just 24 years old.

The building's owner, the GHR Foundation, hasn't directly said they're going to tear down the 31-story building. Spokesperson Tara Kaushik said the foundation "is evaluating options for the building after the tenant's lease expires in October 2025. GHR Foundation has the goal of an outcome that balances what is best for the community, the Foundation, and the building."

But once Ameriprise consolidates its downtown offices in a building a few blocks away, the company's former headquarters will be empty.

The Ameriprise tower. Long may it stand?
The Ameriprise tower. Long may it stand?

James Lileks

Consider the structure that could be imperiled. The Ameriprise tower is a box intersected by a semicircular wedge. It's an agreeable building — not showy or self-consciously peculiar. The hue of the marble exterior is a bit dated. Its skyway connections poke through a two-story colonnade, looking like clumsy afterthoughts. The lobby on the second floor is glum and dim, with an enormous photographic mural of gigantic cardboard boxes. It needs a refresh.

It also needs tenants.

With office vacancy rates nearly 30% and the value of other class-A towers dropping, the future of the building isn't so bright. Renovating it to make it competitive with other buildings like Baker Center or the Capella Tower, each with new tenant amenities, costs money. Converting office towers to housing is even more costly.

Putting an unoccupied skyscraper out of its misery sounds radical. But given the state of downtown and the collapse of the office-work paradigm, the prospect isn't unthinkable.

Just because a building is big doesn't mean it's eternal. Tall towers go down for all sorts of reasons. In fact, we've been tearing down skyscrapers almost as soon as we started building them.

In New York, the 47-story Singer Building was the world's tallest structure when it was completed in 1908, but it become outdated and unprofitable. It took two years — from 1967 to 1969 — to dismantle it. Most recently, a perfectly fine "Mad Men"-era Park Avenue tower, the Union Carbide Building, perished after a little more than half a century. All 52 stories were picked apart and carted off, because JP Morgan Chase wanted a new HQ on the same spot.

Here in Minnesota, we've taken down our fair share of tall buildings — although "tall" is a relative term.

In the late 1970s and early '80s, several old hotels were razed or imploded: the Radisson (1909), the Andrews (1911), the Dyckman (1909), the Curtis (1903), the Leamington (1912) — a massacre of the elders.

The passage of the Jewelry Exchange (627 1st Av. N.), a mere six stories, was hardly noted, since we were getting a big new Block E entertainment complex. (Which has largely failed.) Few cared when the Physicians and Surgeons building on Nicollet Mall and 9th Street (1916)went down for the new Target store, which opened in 2001. The 19-story Sheraton-Ritz hotel at 4th Street and Nicollet only stood from 1963 to 1990, replaced by an empty lot that wasn't filled until the 365 Nicollet building broke ground in 2015.

Metropolitan Building looking down S. 3rd Street in Minneapolis in 1960.
Metropolitan Building looking down S. 3rd Street in Minneapolis in 1960.

DWIGHT W. MILLER, Star Tribune

Most infamous demolition: the Metropolitan Building (308 2nd Av. S.), 12 stories of thick rock, clawed to rubble in 1961.

It was a dense block of rock in the Romanesque style, with an interior light court that made its inner space as airy as its exterior was dense. The arguments for the destruction of this 1890 gem may sound familiar: It would cost too much to bring it up to modern standards. In this case, $2 million for elevators, utilities and masonry repair.

In most instances, when these buildings were demolished, there were few laments or concerns about the loss of local history. Most were razed for something new.

The decision to knock down the Metropolitan, however, was controversial. People admired that great grave building and many found its interior light court an example of a bygone architectural beauty. But cold economics prevailed. Something new, the urban renewal experts said, would rise on the spot, and contribute more to the tax base.

Usually, something did.

The Radisson went down for another Radisson, the Dyckman died so that City Center could be born. The Curtis and Leamington sites would eventually be filled in with an office block and parking ramp, respectively. But the Andrews site was fallow for years, and the Metropolitan site was a parking lot until the utterly dull Towle Building went up in 1980.

It's not unusual to knock something down and leave an empty space. But it's not good, either.

There's only one outcome that would make the loss of the Ameriprise minimally acceptable: rebuild the structure that used to stand on the site.

Lutheran Brotherhood had a green glass facade and rounded corners.
Lutheran Brotherhood had a green glass facade and rounded corners.


While the Ameriprise tower was a nice vote of confidence in the robust future of Minneapolis in the late 1990s, its construction required the removal of a small office building that had housed Lutheran Brotherhood.

Six stories tall, with a green glass facade and rounded corners, a summation of the best architectural ideas of 1956, it had lightness and grace. A perfect postwar building, without the indifference or monotony that characterized so many modernistic towers. It seemed to converse with its older brother across the street, an old 1920s Elks Club (now WCCO Radio), which had been covered in sheet metal to update its look.

It would be nice to see something like the '50s version of Lutheran Brotherhood again, instead of another box of apartments. It would be horrible to see a tower come down. It would be wretched to see a tower come down and be replaced by a parking lot.

However sad the loss of a skyscraper may make some of us, employees have clearly demonstrated that they don't want to come downtown to work. That may leave some towers standing like hollow trees, hoping the next wind doesn't push them over for good.