BARNESVILLE, Minn. - The venerable T. Gunness building has had a lot of uses since it was built in 1899: hardware, grocery, clothing and appliance stores, a Ben Franklin variety store, bars and restaurants, even a firing range.
But after sitting 10 years unused, 118 Front St. S. appeared to be in line for a date with the wrecking ball.
That is, until Stoneridge Software came along.
Now the 7,500-square-foot building, built in the era of the horse and buggy, is the new corporate hub for the fast-growing software consulting firm, and its ag business-oriented spinoff, Levridge.
"This gives us more room to play with, more room for expansion," said Becky Newell, who co-founded Stoneridge with her husband, Eric, and Cody Marshall. She is also president of Levridge.
Newell, who was preparing for the firm's community open house Wednesday, April 22, said the move into the renovated Gunness building should be a boost for the town of 2,500.
"We want to breathe life into smaller places. There's life in Barnesville," Newell said.
Stoneridge specializes in working with Microsoft business software, but also integrates other systems for its clients and develops software as needed.
In 2013, it had 12 clients. The firm now has about 400 clients.
When the business was started in 2012, it had four employees. There are now about 130 employees, who work out of offices in Barnesville, Fargo, Minneapolis and remotely from around the country, company spokeswoman Leah Baker said.
In early January, Stoneridge also acquired another Microsoft partner, DFC Consultants, which continues under its current name as a subsidiary of Stoneridge.
Karen Lauer, executive director of the Barnesville Economic Development Authority, said it was Eric Newell, and his love of historic buildings, that got the ball rolling on the T. Gunness renovation.
Stoneridge had been leasing space in the old City Hall, but had outgrown the space.
"In his heart of hearts, he wanted to be downtown, in the heart of the community," Lauer said. He believed that if the T. Gunness building was renovated, "it would be gorgeous. And it is," Lauer said. "This is a shining example of a public-private partnership."
The building was redeveloped and is managed by Inspire 52, a firm owned by Ace Gregg. Stoneridge agreed to be a long-term tenant, Lauer said. An early estimate to rehab the building was $750,000, she said.
The city provided tax increment financing for the project. The Barnesville EDA, Clay County Revolving Loan Fund, West Central Initiative of Fergus Falls, and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development provided financing and other expertise.
"Everyone involved considers it a partnership," Baker said. "Without everything falling into place and the support of the city, it wouldn't have happened."
"It's really neat to see a building like that revitalized, particularly with a business like Stoneridge Software," Lauer said. "The building has evolved to house the businesses of today."
Masons repaired the rock foundation and sagging floor joists and beams were buttressed and repaired throughout, contractor Josh Breitweser said.
A garage was removed from the rear of the building and the roof took three weeks to repair, including installation of steel beams, Breitweser said.
The front of the building was returned to an all-glass facade, much as it looked about 1900. In the entry and waiting area, beautiful, old pressed-metal panels, sand-blasted and painted, once again grace the lofty ceiling.
"If it had sat another year, it (the building) would have been beyond repair," Breitweser said. "We caught it just in time."
Along Front Street, the reaction was positive.
"It's a good thing. It's good for the town," said Michelle Hoppe, the owner and pharmacist at Barnesville Drug and Hardware. "It makes Front Street look good and makes it attractive to other businesses."
Realtor Ted Du Charme is the fourth generation of his family to live in Barnesville.
"I think it's fantastic," Du Charme said. "It's good to see something progress here. It does my heart good."
City Administrator Mike Rietz called the renovation of the T. Gunness building a "significant improvement" for downtown.
"Revitalization is kind of a key concept," Rietz said. "It's really nothing but positive."