Housing bust as deconstructivist architecture

Categories: Economy

Maybe it's a piece of art. The medium is lime green rebar and concrete—tons and tons of concrete—and the sculpture (if that's what it is) can be found squatting just a block from the river, in Minneapolis's North Loop neighborhood. The structure is perhaps 25 feet high, and 60 yards long on each side. If you happened to live next to it, in a half-million-dollar condo, you might identify the monumental concrete slab as an unfinished building foundation and consider it an eyesore.

This much is known: The slab started out as a high-end residential project, back in the spring of 2003, when the condo market was in full bloom. It was known then as "The Reserve," a planned 108-unit luxury development, with amenities like a concierge and doorman. Yet according to a June, 2005 article in the Twin Cities Business Journal, the mover behind the Reserve, B.J. Spathies of Bejco Development Corp., filed for personal bankruptcy in 2004. Next Lehman Brothers, the project's New York financiers, foreclosed on the property. The remains of the original plan are entombed in that concrete crypt.

Today, a squat blue trailer sits adjacent to the slab. Its overhang has broken off and the light fixtures have been stripped. A banner on the east face of the trailer advertises condos for sale in bold black, foot-high lettering. The phone number has been disconnected.

Shouldering the concrete slab now is the Magellan Development Group, of Chicago, Illinois. They've reconfigured the interior plan to accommodate 131 units, ostensibly downscaling the price-list in the process. But according to Brian D. Gordon, a Magellan v.p., no investors have committed to finish the building. And no units have been sold.

"We're trying to get financing," Gordon says. He puts the odds of that actually happening this year at "50/50."

The chair of the North Loop planning and zoning committee, Chuck Peterson, says the neighborhood is "hopeful" that construction will resume. But the concrete slab must weigh heavily on residents who recently invested in the limping condo market, and on the real estate agents who still have a glut of nearby properties to peddle.

Does Gordon hear the concerns of these people? "All the time," Gordon says, sounding suddenly quite tired. "All the time."

At this point, Magellan might be wise to call the slab sculpture and declare it a finished piece. Recommended title? "Speculation, 2003."

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