You look at the cast-iron doors to the coal fired boiler and think, “This is one of the Greenest buildings in Minneapolis?”

The boiler doors are decorative now, of course, kept as a reminder of the history of the building and the neighborhood, and of how far we have come. They fit in perfectly with the historic beauty of the building and its cast iron fittings and original balsa fir timbers, floors, and ceilings. 

Now though, for the first time ever, those relics clash with the technological makeup of the building. While the 98 year old building is a classic example of the architecture of the time, it also reflects the era’s technology, building practices, and knowledge of the environment.

What started 98 years ago as the Twin Cities Cord and Tire Company was carefully gutted — it’s asbestos and paint removed, it’s electrical system replaced with the most energy efficient fixtures available, its windows replaced, and a eco-friendly 92% efficient Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning system installed.

Then it was all topped off, literally, with 108 solar panels pumping out 27 kilowatts of green electricity. While refurbishing the Solar Arts Building enabled 17 businesses to approach complete energy independence, it did not take away from the beauty of the building.

The original Balsa Fir timbers, floors, and ceilings have been restored to their original condition and the unique industrial fixtures have been retained. A Factory Foreman’s podium remains in a hallway, a room-sized industrial scale sits — still functional — in the lower lobby, and the building’s now-silent smoke stack reaches defiantly into the sky.

Too often these old buildings sit empty until we lose them to age and demolition, and each time the city loses a part of itself in the collapse. Fortunately this building was saved by the hard work of many and the enthusiasm of a whole neighborhood. We here at the Solar Arts Building hope this magnificent building — and the whole Northeast — can serve as a model of what redevelopment and “Green Refurbs” can be.

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