First & First and its President Peter Remes take an outside-the-box approach to real estate development. The company’s tagline is “Creative Real Estate,” and Mr. Remes and his colleagues are clearly committed to their mission to build inspired environments. The two-year old company has already experienced success with the redevelopment of Ice House Court at 26th & Nicollet in Minneapolis. The project renovated several buildings and brought in new tenants, including a Vertical Endeavors indoor rock climbing gym that went into the namesake building of the project, a tall warehouse originally used by the Cedar Fuel and Ice Company to store ice blocks in the early 20th century. With Ice House Court, First & First established principles which it has carried forward to additional projects, including the preservation of cultural heritage, making a difference in neighborhoods, and bringing new life to old buildings.
The centerpiece of the Ice House Court project is a brand new public plaza fronting Nicollet Avenue. The plaza is constructed in part from stones from the Metropolitan Building, a landmark building in downtown Minneapolis that was torn down in the 1960′s during urban renewal. The plaza is also unique in that it is a public space developed by a private entity, which is uncommon in the Twin Cities. It has quickly become a popular gathering spot, exemplifying First & First’s attention to improving neighborhoods, but also adding value to the real estate by creating an appealing environment for customers of the new retail tenants First & First brought into the project, like Dunn Brothers Coffee.
At a recent ULI Young Leaders Group event, Mr. Remes and his colleagues shared insights into First & First’s most recent project, The Broadway. The Broadway is a 60,000 s.f. building in Northeast Minneapolis, formerly occupied by a paper warehouser. True to their mission, First & First is infusing old space with new life, restoring the character of the building while adding features that enhance peoples’ experience, such as a central open staircase linking the building’s two floors. Remes likes to think of real estate as an environment rather than merely as “space”, and he believes creative tenants are willing to pay to be in an inspiring place. The approach has worked well thus far; despite having no tenants signed when the property was acquired, First & First is well on the way to leasing up the building, having brought in a mix of retail and office tenants including 612 Brew, Spyhouse Coffee, and digital creative firm Sevnthsin.
While First & First continues work on the final stages of renovating The Broadway, the company has already acquired its next major project: a 5 acre site off Vandalia and I-94 and St. Paul. While plans are still in the works, it seems safe to say that the project will seek to reinvigorate old buildings, attract creative industry tenants, and have a primary focus on creating memorable places.