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Developer wants to revive Minneapolis mill

Bob Geiger
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — Forget the flour power from the late 1800s and early 1900s. If a developer’s plan becomes reality, the old Pillsbury A Mill could soon be generating power to heat and cool buildings.

Two Minneapolis city council panels have approved proposals to lend Schafer-Richardson Real Estate $30,000 for a feasibility study on the generation of hydrothermal energy and electricity. The study will look into having Mississippi River water flow through the 130-year-old tunnels that once powered the mill, and using it to help heat and cool buildings.

According to documents filed with the city and state Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, Schafer-Richardson is seeking $1.5 million to create a system that would help heat up to 4.6 million square feet of building space and offer electricity generated to a microgrid surrounding the 127-year-old mill.

The renewable energy source is the core of an LCCMR proposal submitted in June that could spark renewed development activity at the Pillsbury A Mill, which would be run by Mill Development LLC.

That limited liability entity would include Schafer-Richardson executives and other investors in the project, which could provide hydrothermal service.

LCCMR documents indicate that Shafer-Richardson, on behalf of Mill Development LLC, would partner with Cermak Rhoades Architects for the A Mill, in addition to tapping engineering firm Karges Faulconbridge Inc. to design the hydrothermal and hydroelectric portions of the energy center.

If all goes as planned, work on the project would be complete by 2012.

The proposed development is significant for several reasons: It would restart the dormant East Bank Mills loft apartment project; it would give the project and surrounding development a chance to benefit from hydrothermal heat and air-conditioning; and it would spotlight one of the city’s first industries with a renewable energy plant that would be available for educational tours.

Perhaps most significantly, the proposed A Mill project would give the East Bank Mills project another chance.

Schafer-Richardson had proposed building between 759 to 1,095 housing units in the area as part of an estimated $300 million project that would use the A Mill as a centerpiece of a multibuilding development, including 105,000 square feet of commercial space.

But the project was put on hold when the housing bubble burst. That left the 1.6 million-square-foot A Mill building, which closed in 2003, almost vacant.

Pending approval of the $1.5 million in LCCMR money, that could change, as could the source of energy to help heat and cool the project and some surrounding buildings, said David Frank, director of development for Schafer-Richardson.

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