The main function of the Minneapolis Skyway System, the largest continuous network of enclosed pedestrian bridges in the world, is so that downtown office workers needn’t ever step outside of their climate-controlled bubble when the weather takes a turn for the positively Hoth-like. Given this is the Upper Midwest we’re dealing with, “positively Hoth-like” can be used to describe about half of the calendar year.

Extensive skyway systems like Minneapolis’ 8-mile-long sky corridor (other cold weathers cities including Duluth, Des Moines, Calgary and neighboring St. Paul  have 'em, too) also open up the dystopian possibility of a life spent completely indoors; an existence in which you can very feasibly live, work, eat, shop, go to the gym, see a movie, visit the doctor and get your hair did without ever stepping outside. While Downtown Minneapolis in the dead of winter may terrify new arrivals — Where did everyone go?  — it doesn’t take long to become accustomed to traversing an 80-block area via glass-encased catwalks. It’s a way of life.

Now, award-winning architecture firm CityDeskStudio is giving residents of the Twin Cities the chance to take up residence not inside of a skyway system, but in an actual Minneapolis skyway — a salvaged, 83-foot-long pedestrian bridge that weighs over 280,000 pounds and has seen better days. The skybridge, which once spanned S. 5th Street and connected two downtown department stores, one failing (J.C. Penney) and the other completely defunct (Powers), has sat in a field for the past 10 years.

With its getaway-perfect size of nearly 1,200 square feet and glass-heavy industrial-chic looks, Rob Ganser and Ben Awes of CityDeskStudio believe that the decommissioned skyway, with some serious renovations, could make for the a super-cool cantilevered summer cabin on the shores of Lake Superior or a woodsy, Philip Johnson-esque Airbnb retreat. In fact, Ganser and Awes see a lot of exciting new possibilities for the old skyway: an artist studio, a recreation pavilion, a hip downtown eatery or a retail establishment.

What Minneapolis' defunct walkway could be: lakeside retreat

Enjoy sweeping views from a downtown skyway-turned-lakeside retreat. (Rendering: CityDeskStudio)

But at this point, after almost a decade of unfruitful attempts to sell the skyway to an interested buyer, the duo just want to be rid of it.

This is why, in a last-ditch effort to offload the skyway and save it from the demolition yard, Ganser and Awes are giving it away (yes, free) to the right person. In fact, to help put a small dent in the formidable cost of relocating the dilapidated pedway, they’ve offered to foot $5,000 of the transport bill.

“It is a piece of Minneapolis history,” Awes explains to the Star Tribune. “To demolish it would be a significant waste of resources, the waste of an object that is both extremely practical and has tremendous creative potential.”

Ganser and Awes bought the old skyway for $5,000 at auction from the University of Minnesota in 2006.

“We fell in love with it, because we’re architects, and we had no idea what to do with it,” Awes tells local CBS affiliate WCCO.

The skyway itself is the creation of Ed Baker, the Minneapolis-based architect credited with planning and designing the entire Minneapolis Skywalk System, which first sprung to life in the 1960s. Coincidentally, Baker worked with Mr. Glass House himself, Philip Johnson, on the IDS Center, Minneapolis’ tallest skyscraper and a hub for several pedestrian bridges.

dining options along Minneapolis Skyway System

From Chipotle (x 2) to Au Bon Pain (x 3), there are dozens of dining options along the Minneapolis Skyway System. (Photo: Jim Winstead/flickr)

After the old Powers store was demolished, the skyway was abandoned and left dangling over 5th Street — an architectural curiosity that served as a “skyway to nowhere” in the words of the Star Tribune. J.C. Penney was eventually shuttered and the defunct skyway was removed in 2002 to make way for a new light rail line. It was then that the University of Minnesota acquired the skyway … for $1.

In 2009, CityDeskStudio began to try to hand off the structure, deposited in an overgrown field near the university, to a new owner. The asking price: $79,500.

A Craigslist ad attracted a huge amount of attention and prospective buyers. Nothing stuck. Ganser and Awes lowered the price. This generated a new wave of conversations, some serious. Still, no actual bites.

“We’ve had more proposals, inquiries and exciting conversations than we could count,” explains Ganser.

One recent — and decidedly left field — proposal?

Try a “sweet-ass mobile deer stand, complete with repurposed tank track wheels and a gun turret.” Ganser tells the Star Tribune: “This idea included the use of our finder’s fee to pay for gas and ‘a bunch of coolers of Bud.’ ”

Obviously, a lack of creative adaptive reuse ideas isn’t what’s prevented Ganser and Awes from offloading the skyway. It’s the pure heft of the structure that’s problematic. While a skyway repurposing project at first brings to mind the cargotecture craze in which retired shipping containers are transformed into functional living spaces, this particular skyway, at over 80 feet long, is twice the length than a standard 40-foot shipping container. It’s also heavy — very heavy. The 1-foot-thick concrete flooring itself weighs over 125,000 pounds.

The cost to relocate the skyway is estimated to be in the tens of thousands of dollars — the further it goes, the higher the cost. Awes and Ganser’s $5,000 contribution toward towing expenses would only go so far. And then there’s the fact that the skywalk has sustained a bit of damage including several broken windows and a hole in the roof.

Awes and Ganser will be accepting (serious) proposals through the end of the month. If no one swoops in with enough cash to tow the hulking piece of infrastructure to a new location, the skyway will be demolished.

What would you do with a 120-ton glass box ?

Via [Star Tribune], [CBS Local]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

What would you do with an old chunk of the Minneapolis skyway?
Two architects are so desperate to see a defunct pedestrian bridge be given new life that they're giving it away for free.