Jim Stanton, a leading builder of suburban homes and downtown lofts, dies at 81
Photo: BRUCE BISPING Jim Stanton, shown near his Stonebridge condo project when it was under construction in downtown Minneapolis in 2013, died Saturday at age 81.
Jim Stanton, one of the most prolific — and gutsy — real estate developers in the Twin Cities, died Saturday. He was 81.
Stanton developed broad swaths of the Twin Cities suburbs, but he’s better known as a pioneer who developed hundreds of condominiums on weed-strewn industrial sites in downtown Minneapolis.
His career in real estate began more than 55 years ago and, for more than 40 of them, Stanton was a hard-charging land developer who platted more than 6,000 homesites in 28 communities across the metro. He was an unconventional, some say “maverick,” developer who was well known for taking risks, whether it be the timing, scale or location of a project.
“Jim was a force — there will never be another like him,” said Peggy Lucas, co-founder of Brighton Development, another of the early downtown developers. “Few people appreciate the impact he had on the city … first the early North Loop and then the Mill District.”
Early in Stanton’s career, he carved up vast tracts of suburban sod fields and cropland into homesites, but he also wasn’t afraid of complicated and unglamorous urban infill projects and redevelopment.
He helped transform the North Loop from a grungy outpost for artists into one of the region’s most trendy neighborhoods by developing expensive condos. He then provided an affordable place for artists displaced from the North Loop by turning the drafty, neglected Northrup King warehouse in northeast Minneapolis into studio space. That move helped cultivate northeast Minneapolis’s reputation as a nationally-known arts district.
His development appetite ran the gamut from Riverdale Village mixed-use commercial project in Coon Rapids to the upscale Wilds Golf Course in Prior Lake. In downtown Minneapolis alone, Stanton developed nine condo projects including Bridgewater Lofts, Stonebridge and Portland Tower.
In the wake of the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, Stanton snapped up hundreds of unwanted building sites in suburbs, including some other developers had walked away from. That was also a time when condo construction had come to a standstill because there was a glut of unsold condos and a raft of construction defect lawsuits against their developers.
And in downtown Minneapolis, Stanton was the first to break ground on a postrecession condo project. The bet paid off. Stonebridge Lofts sold out before it was completed, and he quickly followed suit with two more projects.
Even as Stanton celebrated his 80th birthday, he was deep in the planning process for one of his most ambitious condo projects to date, The Legacy, a 374-unit building that’s under construction in the Mill District. At the time of his death, he had residential and commercial projects under construction in 10 cities in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“As one of the metro area’s most influential builders and developers, Jim leaves a legacy throughout the Twin Cities with a diverse portfolio that included developing lots, building homes, and recently bringing condos to Minneapolis,” David Siegel, executive director of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, said in a statement.
Though Stanton didn’t fulfill the real estate developer stereotypes — he preferred boots and jeans over suit coats and slacks and wasn’t afraid to use colorful language — he was an influential and larger-than-life member of several local and national professional associations for builders and developers.
Siegel said that just 10 days ago Stanton was at a planning meeting with his BATC peers. “As always, he was looking forward to opportunities to continue to elevate the housing industry,” Siegel said. “Jim was also a leader in elevating the housing industry’s advocacy efforts.”
Stanton held several of industry leadership roles and received several awards from BATC and others. He was the 2010 recipient of BATC’s Robert L. Hansen Award for industry service, and in 2014 was inducted into the Minnesota Real Estate Hall of Fame. A 35-year member of the Builders Association, Jim has served on the board of directors for both Builders Association of Minnesota and National Association of Home Builders.
Stanton was born near Northfield, Minn., in 1936. He graduated from Bethlehem Academy high school in Faribault in 1954 and served in the National Guard before embarking on his real estate career. He served in the National Guard at Camp Ripley and Fort Carson, Colo. In a paid newspaper obituary, his family said that Stanton “later went on to get his Ph.D. from the ‘school of hard knocks.’ ”