Exterior of the T3 building in Minneapolis.

Exterior of the T3 building in Minneapolis.

Hines is widely known for building glass-and-steel skyscrapers across the globe. So, it would seem that the developer is going a bit against the grain in its latest endeavor with a boutique office property in Minneapolis made largely of wood.

The new 225,000-square-foot (21,000 sq m) T3 office building is being touted as the largest mass timber building in the United States to be constructed in recent history. The project, which was completed at the end of November, is located in the trendy North Loop neighborhood directly adjacent to Minneapolis’s central business district (CBD). The use of wood components—mainly glulam (glue-laminated timber) and nail-laminated timber—is apparent throughout the building in its ceiling, floors, columns, and beams.

“The big idea behind the building on the architectural side was to take the structural base material and have it as the finished product as well,” says Bob Pfefferle, director of Hines Minneapolis. The building also emphasized sustainability throughout and has achieved Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status.

One of the factors driving the renewed interest in timber construction is the sustainable component and the use of a renewable resource as a core building material. For example, the 180,000 cubic feet (5,100 cubic m) of wood used to build T3 can be grown in North American forests in less than 15 minutes, notes Stephen J. Cavanaugh, design leader and principal at DLR Group in Chicago. The project was designed by Vancouver-based Michael Green Architecture (MGA) in conjunction with DLR Group as the architect of record.

“While everyone is familiar with wood, using it on this scale is new and different,” says Cavanaugh. The other key thing that T3 shows is that timber also can be economically viable for large-scale construction, he adds.


An unfinished floor in the T3 building.

Timber, Transit, and Tech

Timber is clearly the star of the show in the new building. “It is a new approach to office,” says Sam Maguire, a vice president at JLL in Minneapolis. It takes many of the same characteristics that people love about the historic warehouse district and the North Loop neighborhood and modernizes them with efficiencies and amenities that companies want to attract and retain workers in today’s market, he adds. JLL is working with Hines as the leasing agent at the property.

Another goal for the project was to create a building that is “ahead of its time” in terms of technology, Maguire adds. For example, the building incorporated a cellphone booster system that enhances signal and connectivity throughout the building, whether people are parking their car below grade, in an elevator cab, or on the rooftop deck. That boost technology extends the battery life of devices and allows people to work on the fly wherever they are within the building, he says.

Transit is another key component of the project. The building is located about one block from Target Field Station, which is a major transit hub for light-rail transit, commuter rail, and metro buses. The building also has direct access to the Minneapolis skyway, an indoor walkway system that connects many of the buildings in the Minneapolis CBD, as well as having direct access to the Cedar Lake Trail bike and walking path.

It was that access to transit that first got Hines interested in the T3 site back in 2006. At that time, the North Loop was just started to gain traction as a new up-and-coming urban neighborhood adjacent to the CBD with condo and apartment development, chef-driven restaurants, and plans for the addition of the new bike trail. Talk of building a new Major League Baseball stadium in the area for the Minnesota Twins had been ongoing for about a decade. However, what really piqued Hines’s interest was a plan to expand light rail and commuter lines to the neighborhood.

Target Field opened in 2010 and Target Field Station opened in 2014. Currently, the transit station has light-rail connections to Mall of America, the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, and Saint Paul, with additional expansion lines that will be added to Eden Prairie in the south metro area. “We’re very excited about that and just benefiting from being near the center of the wheel-and-spoke public transit hub that is emerging,” Maguire says.

A furnished office space.

A furnished office space.

Demand for Creative Space

Hines took some cues from the multifamily sector to create a live/work/play lifestyle for building occupants. T3 features ground-floor retail space as well as social and collaborative space, indoor bike parking, locker rooms, and a fitness center for building tenants. The upper floors are devoted to office, and the building also features a rooftop deck and underground parking with about 65 stalls.

Hines broke ground on the project as a fully speculative project. “We knew going into it that there was a good likelihood that we may not get any of it leased prior, and if we wait for it to get pre-leased we may never break ground or we lose potential to be first in,” says Pfefferle.

That lead has helped speed lease-up, including a reported deal with Amazon to lease the top two floors. The building has two small retail spaces left to lease on the ground floor and less than 15,000 square feet (1,400 sq m) of office space available. Everybody liked the idea, but once people could touch it and feel it and walk through the building to see what it was all about, that is when leasing took off, Pfefferle says.

And modern timber construction appears to have a growing following in both the public and private sectors. For example, construction was completed in January on the 87,500-square-foot (8,100 sq m) Design Building at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The $52 million project was built as a demonstration project for wood structures. Timber construction also is gaining momentum in Europe; and in Australia, Lendlease kicked off a new 160,000-square-foot (14,900 sq m) timber office project in Brisbane.

Hines also is moving forward with additional timber office buildings. At present, the developer has five new timber office projects in various stages of development in the United States, including projects that have been announced in Chicago and Atlanta. “So, the idea is very much in play in other markets,” notes Pfefferle.