Conley-Maass Building

Benike Construction Reveals Untold Stories of Conley-Maass Building Rehabilitation

Crew cleaning the lay lights and ceiling on the second floor of the Conley-Maass Building.

“A lot of people might not think that preservation is feasible or attainable. But this is a glowing example of what can be done. It provides proof that it is possible. So especially in this time of anticipated growth in Rochester, growth doesn’t always mean brand new buildings. It can mean preserving and giving new life to an old facility made new,” said Mike Benike, Project Manager at Benike Construction.

Benike has been part of a team charged with preserving and rehabilitating the Conley-Maass Building, on 4th Street SW, for over the past year. His construction team began physical work on the building only seven months ago. At that time, there was a good amount of skepticism surrounding the project due to the poor existing condition of the building. 

“The bones were fantastic, but there was a lot of just plain old garbage inside,” Benike explained.

Before construction began, the entire basement was filled with trash. A good amount of previous remodeling of the building had been completed in a haphazard manner. But the team had hope and collectively started a year-long learning project to restore the building and prepare for its new tenants.

“What makes a project attractive is the team that’s going to be doing the project. We had a really great team, from the owner [Hunter and Traci Downs], and the design team with Adam Ferrari and 9.SQUARE, and ourselves, and even our subcontractor team that was underneath us was a group of high performers. We had a lot of good talent on the project.”

Benike estimated that over twenty different contractors made up the construction team, not including the design consultants involved, like 9.SQUARE, historical and development consultants, and special inspections. Over one hundred different tradespeople took part in the Conley-Mass rehabilitation at one point or another during the project.

The strength and cohesion of the entire team involved in the Conley-Maass restoration is the real unsung hero of the building.

“It starts at the owner. Their approach and attitude can trickle down to the other project partners. We had just a great, collaborative delivery.”

Benike Construction became involved in this journey at the Conley-Maass building last May with an initial meeting with owner Traci Downs and project architect and design consultant Adam Ferrari. At that time, the construction team saw the vision, scope, and challenges of the project, which Benike says posed a very exciting and unique opportunity.

The team then entered the pre-construction phase over the next nine months. Finally, in January of this year, actual construction on the building began. The group was given seven months to complete the restoration process, a fairly tight deadline. But they took the challenge on and logged a lot of labor hours in a short amount of time.

Benike Construction used a lean construction technique to establish open communication between their team on the ground, which was essential to complete the Conley-Maass restoration within the seven-month timeframe. In this process, instead of the project manager creating a weekly schedule for the project, the project superintendent and the people in the field collaborate to develop the weekly plan, looking six weeks ahead.

“[Lean construction] provides reliability that the person doing the work is saying, ‘I can commit to doing this for this week.’ And everyone in the room knows that that person is going to do these things for this week,” Benike explained.

The construction crew planning out the next six weeks using lean construction.

The construction crew planning out the next six weeks using lean construction.

In the early stages of the construction process this past winter, the focus was on demolition and restoration of historic materials within the Conley-Maass Building. Internal walls that were not historic or part of the original structure were gutted. Several of the interior partitions and the electrical and mechanical systems had been pieced together so many times over the years, that it was better to remove them and start new.

There were a lot of surprises unearthed during the demo process.

“Did anyone tell you about the well?” Benike asked me. No. No, they had not.

The team also made some unique discoveries in the building’s attic. They found old, original materials like doors, windows, and even a dishwasher. An old invoice to an electrical contractor from 1914 was even unearthed. The best part: the company is still in business in Rochester and does some work with Benike Construction to this day.

The Conley-Maass building, 14 on 4th Street SW, was added to the National Register of Historic Places, so a large focus during the construction process was reuse and preservation of original materials within the space. (Click here to read a full description of the salvage and restoration of materials in the building from the perspective of Adam Ferrari.)

“If people walk in and see the existing materials or the old materials, not everything was in its place when we walked in. That’s pretty unique to see either historic windows or wood trim that was salvaged off a different portion of the building […] and incorporated into the final design, whether it was in a different floor or a different space,” Benike explained.

Salvage and utilization of original materials from the building was one of the most challenging aspects of the project, but it paid off. The staircase leading from the Bleu Duck Kitchen on the first to the second floor is one shining, repurposed gem. The tread of the stairs is composed of salvaged joists, which were cut out of the building to install a different two story staircase and elevator. The rise portion of the stairs are from repurposed subflooring that was covering the original hardwood.

The coolest part is that this staircase was built, by hand, by a descendant by marriage of the Maass family. Maass and McAndrews was a plumbing and mechanical company that occupied the Conley-Maass building for about forty-five years, and contributed to the building’s current name.

Construction on the building is now 99% complete. The results are stunning.

“It’s been a very fun project to be a part of. I’m really proud to have participated in it. … And I definitely want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Hunter and Traci Downs. They took the leap. Without them seeing what could happen here, without them having the vision and taking the risk to make it happen, there wouldn’t have been a project. We’re fortunate to have them in the community.”

Bleu Duck Brings Fresh, Kitchen Forward Dining Concept to Downtown Rochester

“We want to be a little bit of a different kind of restaurant in town. We want to have good food, good beverage, a casual atmosphere, great service. We just want to have fun with it,” said Erik Kleven, owner of Bleu Duck Kitchen, a brand new, sixty seat, American-style bistro in town.

Kleven and business partner Erik Paulsen are set to open Bleu Duck Kitchen on August 26th. For both chefs, Bleu Duck is the first restaurant of their complete own design and concept.

As a native of La Crosse, Kleven moved to the west coast during this high school years, where he also attended culinary school. Then he and his wife moved back to Rochester to raise their children in the Midwest. He worked both at Chester’s Kitchen and Bar and Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery, where he served as the Executive Chef and met Erik Paulsen, then the Four Daughters Sous Chef.

“You always think about wanting your own place at some point. …[Erik and I] get along pretty well. Fun is our number one thing. We spend more time with each other than we do with our families. So we better have a good time doing it,” said Kleven.

Bleu Duck Kitchen is a brand new concept for Rochester. The menu will constantly change and the experience will be new each visit. The chefs challenge Rochester residents to keep finding their new favorite thing on the menu.

“There’s going to be a wide variety of just really cool, classic dishes with new twists to them. We kind of have a very novel approach to our cooking. Dining is supposed to be fun. There’s no reason that the cooking towards it shouldn’t be as much fun,” said Paulsen.

Bleu Duck will make fine dining look effortless.

The chefs will implement a kitchen-forward concept so that diners feel like part of the cooking experience and become educated about their food.

Bleu Duck also has an event space, which following suit to the restaurant, will be completely unique. The main event area seats one hundred, while a private chef’s room can house twelve to fourteen people. This is not your classic venue. The space is very modern and completely customizable to what the customer wants.

“It’s their party. It’s not our party. They want it, we’ll figure out a way to get it done for them as much as we can,” explained Kleven.

Kleven and Paulsen are the chefs and owners behind Bleu Duck Kitchen, but there are other pieces to the concept.

Aynsley Jones, owner of The Doggery and also Bleu Duck, will also be sharing his cocktail making talent at the Bleu Duck bar.

Jennifer Becker, former Food and Beverage Director and Event Coordinator at the Rochester Golf and Country Club, is manning the event space and front of house.

Jennifer herself has been in the service industry since she was 13. She started by washing dishes and worked her way up. Jennifer and the Eriks worked together for a single night prior to jumping into Bleu Duck. Jennifer was volunteering at a fundraising gala for the Boys & Girls Club just this past May. As part of the event, the chefs Erik set up a popup restaurant in the Conley-Maass building.

“It was completely under construction. There was no running water. No bathrooms. And they were pulling out eight courses for forty people,” Becker said.

Kleven and Paulsen cooked a beautiful, eight course dinner smack in the middle of a construction zone. Jennifer was so impressed by the calmness and level of sanity they maintained, she knew she wanted in on Bleu Duck.

Kleven claims that their calmness stems from prepping and planning hard, but the pair are not easily rattled in the kitchen. Even opening a restaurant of their own, unique design has not shaken them.

Kleven and Paulsen’s biggest challenge came with taking off those chef hats and doing some design work.

“We’re cooks. We’re service industry. Hospitality industry. We’re not used to picking out lights and towel dispensers, things like that,” explained Paulsen.

Bleu Duck has a beautiful, historic venue to launch into this new wave of entrepreneurship for all of them. The restaurant is housed on the first floor of the Conley-Maass building on 4th Street SW. They even have table seating on the old storefront window platforms at the front of the building.

“You don’t get a lot of views like this out of any other restaurant in town,” said Kleven.

Plus, you just can’t beat the history.

“The history is very intriguing and I think that’s the selling point. People travel all around the world for places like this,” Becker related.

Attention Rochester: Contest Launched to Rename Conley-Maass Building

The Conley-Maass Building, number 14 on 4th Street SW, has always housed entrepreneurs and stood as a pillar of innovation in the Rochester community.

Henry Terry had the Rochester Woolen Manufacturing Building constructed right at this spot in the early 1900s. After the clothing factory, a family owned and operated business, Conley Cameras, opened up in the space. The company was the camera manufacturer for Sears in their day and employed up to 165 people.   

After Conley Camera, Maass and McAndrews occupied the space, bringing toilets and plumbing to Rochester. Maass and McAndrews developed close ties with the Mayo Clinic and created specialized sinks to aid in aseptic surgical technique.

Some of the most recent occupants of the space- the Rochester Ballet School, Masque Theatre, and Words Players Theatre- called 14 on 4 home until 2014.

In January 2016, the building was purchased by local couple Hunter and Traci Downs and renovated by architecture and community design firm 9.SQUARE and Benike Construction. Now a new wave of entrepreneurs are setting up shop in the building.

The Conley-Maass Building, or whatever you prefer to call it, has stood in Rochester for 116 years. It has meant many different things to members of the community.  Strong history and memories are linked to this space.

Because of these ties with Rochester’s community, the Downses are asking for the community’s help to rename the building. Name suggestions must be made through the 14 on 4 website. The contest ends at 9AM on Monday August 22nd.

Conley-Maass Renovations Blend Old with New as Building Prepares to Open Doors to Newest Wave of Rochester Innovators

The process of restoring the Conley-Maass Building, 14 on 4th Street SW, required a sprinkling of detective work and a heaping of patience according to Adam Ferrari, local architect with 9.SQUARE, an architecture and community design firm.

Ferrari said that much of the building, especially the second floor, was actually a fire hazard when local couple Traci and Hunter Downs purchased the space in January 2016.  There was only one entry and exit to the second level, and it was through the adjacent building.  The space was littered with exposed wiring and power strips.  Much of the building’s original structure was covered up for ease of maintenance or to hide rot and decay.

Because of the storied history of innovators within the building, not the actual architecture of the complex itself, the Downses successfully had the Conley-Maass Building placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The couple was able to apply for historic rehabilitation tax credits toward restoration of the structure, a first for the city of Rochester and Olmsted County. 

Inclusion on the National Register did come with some restrictions.  Any addition or change to the building had to be compatible with the original intent of the structure.  Ferrari explained that the team received only eight total changes to their original plan from both the state and government, none of which impacted the design.  The process ended up being surprisingly straightforward.

Ferrari explained that the overall renovation design was very intentional.  The building itself is a contrast of old and new elements, meant to be obvious in some places, but subtlety and skillfully blended in others.  Ferrari and the team kept the design simple and flexible.  They consolidated infrastructure to create open spaces to facilitate maximum natural light flow through the multiple windows and lay lights.

“We tucked all the small, articulated rooms into the middle as much as we could, so we could leave the opposite ends open for [the business incubator] Collider, the [Bleu Duck] restaurant, the event space, to be just big, open spaces,” Ferrari explained.

The design was meant to change as the construction and renovations progressed.  “Buildings are meant to be adaptable.  They’re not meant to be pieces of art.  They’re meant to be things that we live in, and augment, and modify,” Ferrari said.

New interventions to the building, which needed to be different from the original structure, were made to be different in a very intentional way.  For instance, the bathrooms were modernized, but even that boundary was pushed.  The bathrooms have sleek, elevated, rectangular sinks, 100% recycled paper countertops, and the newest rendition of the more empowering handicapped logo.  New infrastructure was implemented to comply with modern building codes, like steel beams in the basement.  An elevator and kitchen hood, among other modernizations, were carefully inserted.  But these additions were restricted to a compact, vertical column stretching the whole way from the basement to the second floor, leaving a small footprint on the original design.  Even the massive amount of air required for the kitchen equipment were squeezed into this column.

Much of the existing structure was reused or repurposed in some manner, making it feel more comfortable and natural, Ferrari explained.  A beam from the basement, destined for the dumpster, was wrapped in lights and set as the centerpiece in the first floor conference room.  Subflooring and wood joists were reused to construct the stairs from the first to second floor.   

When an element of the building did need to be replaced, it was matched and blended as closely as possible to the original structure.  For example, the wooden platform in the storefront had been removed at some point.  The team carefully reconstructed the platform from old photos taken from across the street.  Most of the existing windows in the building were missing or deteriorating and were exchanged with carefully matched, thermally efficient windows.

In some instances, the original structure of the building was exposed for the first time in decades, but was in much better shape than Ferrari expected.  It just needed to be uncovered and receive a healthy dose of elbow grease and ingenuity.  Four layers of flooring were peeled away to reveal beautiful, intact, original hardwood.  The north and west external brick façade was covered in layers of paint that had to be stripped off and the brick carefully cleaned.  The first floor ceiling was coated in paint and spray foam.  Four techniques were used to finally remove all the residue and expose the original wood underneath.  Pristine prism glass in the store front was uncovered and cleaned and are now preserved and protected by a glass panel.  The second floor ceiling was surprisingly intact.  The entire tongue and groove wooden ceiling, lay lights and all the original skylight windows were undamaged. 

This juxtaposition and blending of old and new goes beyond the structure of the Conley-Maass Building.  Over one hundred years of innovation has occurred under this roof. 

“[The building] is an old thing that was built for a certain purpose that we are repurposing with new technology, and businesses, and new ideas,” said Ferrari.

This building has stood as a pillar of entrepreneurship and innovation since its conception.  Now a new group of innovators and risk takers will call 14 on 4th home and have their stories told within its walls.