Stay in the Loop

A walk in the woods of T3 timber building

Employees working at T3 have access to a rooftop deck that allows them to work or relax with a view of the downtown skyline and Target Field. The building is equipped with free Wi-Fi and a cellphone signal boost system. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

 : Finance&CommerceNovember 30, 2016

How many office buildings smell like freshly cut timber and offer a wall of mounted bike racks as a form of utilitarian art? To date, there may be only one.

This month developer Hines completed construction of T3, its seven-story 224,000-square-foot building at 323 Washington Ave. N. in the North Loop of Minneapolis. The Houston-based global real estate company touts the project as the first modern wooden office building of its size in the nation.

But it won’t be the last. Hines plans to develop similar office projects stamped with the T3 brand in other cities, including one underway in Atlanta. T3 stands for timber, transit and technology.

The International Building Code has long limited the height of timber construction to six stories – presenting a challenge for large-scale office projects. But recent advancements in the pre-construction wood treatment process have real estate developers on the cusp of a timber renaissance, said Bob Pfefferle, director of Hines in Minneapolis.

“Even though the idea of using timber is old, the technology of glulam (glued laminated) timbers and nail-lam (nail laminated) panels is new and is really being encouraged,” Pfefferle said. “It has a great sustainability story to it.”

The building is expected to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-Gold certification.

That T3 was constructed of mainly heavy timber is readily apparent to anyone who steps inside its doors. The scents of Douglas fir and Austrian spruce permeate each floor.

“People love wood, the smell of wood, the texture, the look of it,” Pfefferle said. “Your environment really impacts your effectiveness, and it’s kind of been proven in some ways that that sort of thing can really help employees with productivity.”

That’s what Hines expected for T3 when it first pitched plans for the creative office project in 2014.

The Class A building sits a few hundred feet from the south side of Washington Avenue and is next to the Cedar Lake Trail. It’s just west of Third Avenue.

Hines has long owned the 1-acre parcel, immediately north of where it first constructed the 185-unit Dock Street Flats apartments in 2013. The site also is just steps from the five-story, 76,000-square-foot Union Plaza office building that Hines bought in 2012.

The Target Field Station transit hub and the Ramp C public parking ramp are all within about a block of the project.

Hines declined to share project costs, but the value of construction permits issued for T3 totaled $30.9 million, said Jordan Gilgenbach, a spokesman for the city of Minneapolis.

T3 offers 34,000-square-foot floor plates and large windows that offer ample natural light, all designed with today’s office user in mind, said Brent Robertson, of the Minneapolis office of JLL, which is handling the leasing.

Prospective tenants have been attracted to T3 because “it offers you the experience of ‘office-ing’ in a cool brick-and-timber, warehouse-style building, without having to compromise on any of the modern aspects” many workers come to expect, said Robertson, a JLL Minneapolis managing director.

Both Hines and JLL declined to name committed tenants, but Robertson said the building will have leases signed for 60 to 70 percent of the office space by the end of this year. Tenants will begin moving in early next year.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based Michael Green Architecture and the Minneapolis office of DLR Groupteamed up to design T3. The Canadian firm, an expert in heavy timber projects, was selected after an international search.

The skin of the building – corrugated and flat panel Corten steel – is arranged in an intersecting pattern to frame the sweeping floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap each of T3’s seven stories.

The architects designed a mostly open floor plan to call attention to its wood beams and columns in the skeleton, Pfefferle said.

“In addition to the timber itself, one of the things we wanted to do is to really highly ‘amenitize’ the common areas in such a way so that when you walk in the building it really feels more like a living room or a coffee shop,” he said.

Although the first-floor common area was constructed with concrete and steel, its interior is accented with warm wood finishes.

The designers used Douglas fir in the ceiling panels and seating area in the recreational lounge. The front entrance of the building offers a 4,500-square-foot restaurant space that will be leased to a yet-to-be revealed local group, Pfefferle said. The Bar Method fitness gym already rents a small corner space.

The main floor also offers an exercise room for tenants with lockers, showers and towel service. Free wireless internet and a cellphone signal boost system are accessible throughout the building, including from the rooftop deck that has views of the downtown skyline and Target Field.

A multitude of metal bike racks are fastened to the walls near the building’s rear entrance from the Cedar Lake Trail. The bike storage area on the first floor not only emphasizes the building’s commitment to multimodal transportation, but also encourages those who work there to make their bicycles a visible part of the interior atmosphere, Pfefferle said.

“We’re really embracing the bicycle. We want the bicycle parking area to be in an active part of the building,” Pfefferle said. “This is right on the first level, and they basically have priority parking when they walk in.”

The wood beams and columns that Minneapolis-based general contractor Kraus-Anderson used to assemble the building are Austrian spruce. The ceiling panels are Douglas fir from the Pacific Northwest. Both were harvested from managed forests to maximize the sustainability of the construction materials, Pfefferle said.

The actual timber for the building was cut in Winnipeg and then transported to the construction site, Pfefferle said. Although the preparation process for cutting the timber to specifications adds more time to the front end of the construction process, the onsite work is much faster – and quieter – than the conventional concrete and steel method, he said.

“From a structural material standpoint, this is a renewable resource we’ve used, which lowers the carbon footprint of the construction process,” Pfefferle added. “But ultimately, people love the authenticity and the warmth that goes along with timber construction.”

T3 opens as a few other North Loop office buildings are planned along a half-mile stretch of Washington Avenue, including separate 10-story office projects planned by United Properties and a joint venturebetween CPM Cos. and developer Ned Abdul of Swervo.

Staff photographer Bill Klotz toured the building. See slide show for building highlights.

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