Rochester’s plans for a river renaissance gain momentum with an award-winning new multifamily project

By Joel Hoekstra

In recent years, Rochester, like many other American cities, has begun to focus on riverfront development. Civic leaders have invested in pedestrian paths along the Zumbro River, which runs through the city’s heart, and promoted efforts to improve its water quality. Increasingly, the city’s billion-dollar economic-development plan, the Destination Medical Center, which is aimed at securing the Mayo Clinic’s position as a global leader in health care, is seen as an engine that could also rejuvenate activity and investment along the river.

Residential developers have followed the city’s lead, and everything from luxury condos to 20-story towers has been proposed along the Zumbro. Few of those plans are currently more than sketches, but among the recently completed projects is the Lofts at Mayo Park, a modest and modern 29-unit apartment building developed by GFP Trust and designed by Minneapolis-based Snow Kreilich Architects. Replacing a handful of dilapidated single-family homes, the new three-story structure fronts the east bank of the Zumbro, with westward views of the city’s art museum and convention center.

“It was time to create a multifamily project of high-quality design in Rochester and on the Zumbro River,” says GFP Trust’s Helen Roland.

The river provides an obvious focal point for the building, but it wasn’t the only site consideration as planning got under way. Matt Kreilich, FAIA, a design principal and partner at Snow Kreilich, says it was important to integrate the building into the neighborhood. The structure’s size, shape, and aesthetic had to fit the context. “Each side of the building faces something different—the river, some single-family homes, a public park,” Kreilich explains. “How does a building shift and change to adapt to those conditions? This project is fine-tuned on each side to meet the particulars.”

On the neighborhood side, for example, the building is pushed back from the street and has a flat surface. The river-facing side is slightly flashier, with balconies that project from voids in the facade. Rising from its white cement pediment, which contains underground parking, the three-story building with penthouses seems tall when viewed from the river. But from the street, it’s less imposing, because the garage is below grade and the penthouses are set back.

Snow Kreilich chose traditional residential materials, including stucco and cedar, rather than metal panels for the exterior. “Stucco homes are pretty commonplace in the neighborhood,” says Kreilich, “and the use of cedar helps warm the neutrality of the stucco.”

The designers also varied the patterns on each side of the building. The voids, projections, and surface patterns aren’t fully symmetrical, creating visual interest. “Your eye tries to understand if there’s an underlying rhythm or not,” Kreilich says of the design. “The surface also changes with the light, so, depending on the time of day, it can be dramatic.”

The apartments, which range in size from 750 to 1,500 square feet, are intended for both long- and short-term stays, to accommodate patients and others who may be visiting the Mayo for extended periods of time. The interiors—white plaster trimmed with maple—feature floor-to-ceiling windows, maximizing daylighting and views. A glassed-in entry lobby contains a small conference room that can used by both residents and the community.

Working with landscape architects Coen+Partners, the architects incorporated a public path on the north side of the building. Leading from the street to the river, the walkway provides community access to the waterfront. “We think the building design and materials and the extensive and elegant landscaping successfully blend the project with its surroundings,” says Roland.

“Our hope is that this project helps people see the potential of the river,” says Kreilich. “For decades, the city turned its back on the Zumbro, but it’s a huge amenity. We want people to see that.”

Location: Rochester, Minnesota
Client: Helen Roland, GFP Trust
Architect: Snow Kreilich Architects
Principals-in-charge: Matt Kreilich, FAIA; Julie Snow, FAIA
Design team: Mike Heller, Assoc. AIA; Kar-Keat Chong, AIA; Larry Kemp
Landscape architect: Coen+Partners
General contractor: Welsh Construction
Size: 52,000 square feet
Completion: June 2017
Photographer: Corey Gaffer

“A beautiful building. The design is at a very high level in terms of how the plan, the massing, the elevations, and the detailing respond to the neighborhood, the park, and the river. The project doesn’t appear to have had an extravagant budget, but it’s all done so well.”
—Wendell Burnette, FAIA