The Penfield / BKV Group
Troy Thies The Penfield / BKV Group

Project Stats

Location: St. Paul, Minn.
Developers: City of St. Paul's Housing & Redevelopment Authority; Penfield Apartments LLC 
Architect: BKV Group
Builder: Weis Builders
Opened: February 2014 
Number of units: 254
Unit mix: Studios and one-, two-, and three-bedrooms
Rents: $1,060 to $2,610

When it comes to development, so much is about timing and flexibility.

When a condominium project in St. Paul, Minn., fell through during the recession, the city's housing and redevelopment authority stepped in as the developer of the full city-block site. It recognized the strength of the increasing downtown employment base and wanted to ensure that some type of housing structure would fulfill growing residential demand, a national trend. In fact, the building would become the city's first major market-rate development in 20 years.

After the housing agency hired BKV Group to design the 254-unit Penfield, challenges quickly arose. The site contained buildings with asbestos, which required remediation after demolition. The city also decided the new building should be LEED Silver certified to avoid future environmental issues.

Next came the need to find a way to salvage part of the historic Saint Paul Public Safety Building on the site. To do so, the agency hired Wenzel Engineering, which inserted new steel columns on the inside and temporary steel columns on the exterior to hold the older structure in place while construction took place around it. The older building's columned façade became an elegant entry into the new design and relates in scale to the stately capitol and other state buildings.

Because of the building's location by an interstate, sound mitigation on that side was needed, and the windows and walls were upgraded to blunt noise.

Satisfying a mixed demographic was yet another challenge, since the developer envisioned a target audience of young professionals and older, affluent adults. To appeal to all age groups, the six-story building mixes old style with a sleek glass addition, as well as a plethora of amenities, from a swimming pool to fire pit, sauna, fitness room, dog wash and run, and concierge. An adjacent grocery store became the city's first full-size, upscale supermarket.

The Penfield has also received kudos for embracing its neighborhood with a 30-foot-wide public plaza with a rain garden, historic interpretive display about the Public Safety Building, public art, and benches. The project's walkability scores high, with its proximity to government agency buildings, large private employers, and mass transportation.