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How to Turn a 1.5M SF Building Into a Triple TOBY Winner

The honor is what CBRE’s Joe Markling calls “The Granddaddy of Them All”—the International TOBY Award for a building 1M SF or larger. This year, the coveted accolade went to Minneapolis’ 1.5M SF Capella Tower. Just how did the property sweep the local, regional and international judges?

First, Ryan Cos general manager Ted Campbell—whose firm provides third-party management services for the tower—gives us a little background. Capella Tower, which was constructed in 1992 for IBM and First Bank (eventually US Bank), is the largest single-roof project in Minnesota at 57 stories high and with 53 rentable floors. Today, it’s a multi-tenant office tower anchored by online higher-ed purveyor Capella University, which occupies roughly a quarter of the building and joins a wide list of service provider tenants.

Ryan Cos took on management in 2009 for Bethesda, MD-based ASB Real Estate Investments, in part due to its repositioning expertise. Ryan Cos' pitch included a plan to freshen up the building, particularly the common areas, in order to realize the asset's full potential. But plans were put on hold as the recession hit, and the $10M renovation couldn’t be completed until 2014. However, since Ryan took over management of Capella Tower, the building garnered LEED Gold EB and BOMA 360 certifications, as well as an Energy Star score of 95.

The revitalization focused on the building’s first and second floors. Ted tells us that Minneapolis has a skywalk system in between its buildings for those frigid days, allowing workers to move from one end of Downtown to the other without ever stepping foot outside. Because of this, he says, the ground floors of many of the buildings are underutilized. Ryan Cos took this neglected space and added a slew of new building amenities, including a fitness center (above), coffee counter, entertainment and gathering space, and a fireside lounge.

The fireside lounge has been one of the biggest improvements to the building. Benches surround the decorative chimney, while large tables and videos screens you can plug in to allow the building’s tenants to congregate and meet in an area outside their office. “We studied the changing workforce dynamic, and our tenants didn’t want to sit at their desks all day,” Ted says. “So we created this warm, inviting common area that’s more akin to a high-end hotel environment. It differentiates our building.”

Ryan Cos also placed a community manager, Melanie McNiff, in the lounge. She’s the friendly, familiar face that tenants see every day, and she steps in to help when they need to connect to WiFi or have another building need. She’s also in charge of building programming and arranges events like an origami class during lunch hours. This week, Capella Tower hosted a substantial farmers market that sourced produce, baked goods and other products from local farms. “These events really bring a community feel to the building,” Ted notes.

Minnesota had an impressive seven buildings vying for an International TOBY Award in Los Angeles this year, and six of them had already lost to other buildings by the time the “The Granddaddy of Them All” was the final reveal. (So if you heard a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ when Capella Tower was called, that’s why.) “It was a fantastic opportunity to showcase how well our engineering team runs the building, and they worked hard to get it perfect,” says Ted (second from left), who joined BOMA Minneapolis executive director Kevin Lewis and Ryan Cos assistant property manager Jenny Rich to accept the award from BOMA immediate past chair John Oliver of Oliver & Co.