By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires
Minneapolis — Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard dropped in to chat on separate occasions. So did Mary Tyler Moore. Former President Jimmy Carter was there, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is a regular visitor to this day.
Indeed, few workplaces can match the CBS Radio building in Minneapolis, the longtime home of radio station WCCO, when it comes to the VIPs and celebrities walking through the door.
Hoping to create a more welcoming environment for its guests, WCCO has made a series of improvements to the 96-year-old brick building in recent years.
A Minneapolis-based architectural firm, Foundation Architects, has been the creative force behind those improvements and has some drawings stashed away for future projects at CBS Radio.
“We have done some designs for the main floor entrance,” Foundation Architects president Robert Shaffer said. “That right at the moment isn’t going anywhere, but we have models in our office of different designs. It’s just a matter of finding the proper time and budget and all that.”
Shaffer talked as he led a recent tour of completed improvements in the five-story CBS Radio building. The work has progressed in stages since 2005; some upgrades have just been completed in the past year.
Shaffer described the space before renovation as having a “1950s dentist’s office” appearance, complete with dark hallways, terrazzo floors, and outdated furnishings.
In the main lobby, as guests walked in from the elevator, they saw an old reception desk and a couple of love seats against the wall.
“Nobody sat in the loveseats,” Shaffer said. “They kind of leaned on them. … You couldn’t see anybody working.”
“First impressions say a lot,” said Shelly Grossinger, assistant to the director of sales at WCCO. “People see CBS Radio and they think it will be a little more glamorous. They don’t think dark and dingy.”
A current walk through the building reveals a bright, airy, colorful space that emphasizes the studios and showcases the station’s on-air talent. Passers-by can see through the glass studio walls to outside windows, creating a sense of having a window to the world.
Studios got new furnishings, flooring, TV monitors, colors, ceilings and lighting.
“They were concerned about us making it too bright, because some of the on-air personalities liked it dark,” Shaffer said. “So we had to have multiple switching so you could adjust it.”
Hallways and other interior spaces are brighter than before. At the same time, the lighting bill went down because the new design features more efficient bulbs and fixtures, Shaffer said.
One of the biggest challenges was adjusting work schedules so they meshed with the client’s nonstop activity. The radio station is on the air 24/7, so it’s wasn’t a simple matter of doing the work during nonbusiness hours.
Shaffer said that was accomplished by phasing and staging the work as needed, temporarily shifting people from one studio to another and finding snippets of time here and there to move ahead with renovation tasks.
“We would be in there measuring and we would make noise while they were off the air (on breaks),” he said. “We would measure and then we would stop and wait. It was a little different.”
Grossinger said the new spaces have earned rave reviews from employees and visitors.
“They love it,” she said. “It’s a cleaner, happier work environment. It brightened up so much — people like being here.”