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Author: Don Obrien

Q&A: Ironmark stays true to its Uptown roots


As a business and a builder, Ironmark Building Co. has strong ties to Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood.

The company, which specializes in urban infill work and other project types, is based at 1710 W. Lake St. in the heart of an Uptown neighborhood that has seen its share of turmoil in recent months.

Violent crime and civil unrest have prompted some Uptown businesses to pull up their stakes in the neighborhood. Likewise, citing concerns about public safety and regulatory requirements in Minneapolis, some contractors are looking elsewhere for work.

For its part, however, Ironmark has no plans to relocate.

“Lake Street still has a lot of work to do to get back to where it was,” said Brent Kluver, Ironmark partner and vice president of project development. “And we’re looking at some options to help with that effort, too. So this is our home and we don’t plan on really going anywhere for quite some time.”

In the following interview, Kluver talks about running a construction business in Uptown amid the unrest. He also takes a deep dive into the pandemic’s impact on his business, the outlook for the Twin Cities construction market and more.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Q: Talk a little bit about your company, how long you’ve been in business, and the types of work you pursue. I understand you do a lot of urban infill work, correct?

A: We are a commercial general contractor. We started the firm back in 2012 with this vision to build high-quality projects. Since that time, we’ve completed maybe 70 projects, probably around $700 million in work so far.

While we’ve been around for 10 to 12 years, Ironmark as a name is fairly new. About 18 months ago we had some management changes and along with that we did kind of a relaunch, rebrand of the business. We’re the same great company, the same vision, same employees just under the different name, which is now Ironmark.

We kind of specialize in the mixed-use multifamily area. I’m not saying that’s all we do. We’ve done some corporate headquarters work; we’ve done four or five hospitality hotel projects. But over the past decade or so, to your point about urban infill, we’ve kind of been became known for that — working on the tight postage stamp properties in Uptown and downtown.

We are, however, starting to see more suburban projects being built with everything that’s been going on in Minneapolis the last year or two — different zoning restrictions and affordability requirements. I think developers are kind of migrating out to the suburbs, at least that’s what I’m seeing. We will obviously build anywhere there’s demand.

Q: You touched on an important point about the trend toward suburban work. It sounds like you’re still working in Minneapolis as well as the suburbs. What has been the impact of the regulatory changes in Minneapolis and the public safety concerns?

A: While there is still development and buildings being constructed downtown, if you drive out to any of the suburban areas right now, you see cranes in the air all over too, which I feel hasn’t been that substantial in the last few years.

I think going to downtown Minneapolis now you’re really starting to feel a comeback, which is refreshing. But I still feel the lack of housing out in the suburbs, and people even maybe migrating away from the city, is still going to drive the suburban demand. We’re going to still see an uptick in that for probably quite some time.

Q: What has it been like running a business in Uptown amid the unrest?

A: Our office is on Lake Street in Uptown. We’re not too far from the hub of a lot of the unrest that’s been happening. We’ve been boarded up a couple times and there’s been — thankfully not our building — but there have been multiple buildings around us that have been vandalized. We’ve taken some precautions during some of those really active days; we would send employees home to work.

Really, what we were affected most by is, we had a lot of active job sites in both downtown and Uptown during that time. Typically we’d shut jobs down if it got really active. We’d hire security and just take extra precaution in some of those high-intensity zones, but we were fortunate enough to really not have a lot happen. I know there were some structures during that time that got heavily vandalized or, in a few cases, burned to the ground.

Lake Street still has a lot of work to do to get back to where it was. And we’re looking at some options to help with that effort, too. So this is our home and we don’t plan on really going anywhere for quite some time.

Q: How has your company fared during the pandemic?

A: We’ve been pretty fortunate. We’ve had a lot of good projects that have carried us through. At the beginning to the middle of the pandemic, we did have a couple projects in northeast Minneapolis — I think there was a 135-unit deal and 175-unit deal — and we actually pumped the brakes on those in March when things got really bad. We kind of hit pause and took a reset. They actually started up about a month, two months later. There were definitely challenges with just protecting the people on the ground making sure they were doing all the necessary COVID protocols.

Q: What is your outlook for the local construction market? Do you expect conditions to get better, worse or stay about the same?

A: Well, I hope they continue to get better for our sake, but we’re feeling pretty good about it. We’ve got a good backlog. I continue to see new projects pop up almost on a weekly basis. The development community is still active, which is good. I feel like there was a little wall after the COVID hump where people had to catch their breath, and catch back up, and get back into it. But I feel like we’re kind of on the back end of that.

Like I said, you can get in your car and drive in Uptown, downtown or in any suburban market right now and you see cranes all over the place, so that’s always a good feeling. I like to stay in touch with a lot of our architects, and the architects are continuing to stay busy and drawing and continuing to hire people. It’s kind of the indicator on the front end where the market’s going be, so I remain optimistic.

 

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