April 26, 2023

45 Years of Shea

45 years of Shea in the words of Tanya Spaulding (Principal/Partner, 24 years at Shea)

To say you’re 45 years old may not sound impressive. But, for a solely owned creative firm, it’s astounding and maybe even a little exhausting. How does an owner start every day with energy and a passion to not only sustain what was started, but to keep growing and innovating? 

I joined Shea in 1999, twenty-one years in, and I first met David Shea in a job interview.  He sat in for about 20 minutes (which is about David’s meeting limit), and after peppering me with random questions, excused himself and left. 

I came into the job as a hyper-organized, type A control freak who was always the most prepared person in the room.  David Shea is the person that no matter how prepared you were, he’ll ask for the one thing you haven’t thought of.  He walks fast, talks fast (and a lot) and his brain is always about 20 steps ahead.

David can go into a space, whether empty or completely filled with boxes, and he can instantly envision how it will lay out and how it needs to work as a restaurant, lobby, retail store, workplace, grocery store, the list goes on and on.  Then, to this day, he sketches it out almost immediately.

He reviews Shea’s creative work throughout the firm, and instantly hones in on how to make it better.  He doesn’t just change it, he sits with the person or team, asks questions and gives ideas and direction.  He’ll dig into business questions from whether it makes budget sense, to how it will enhance the guest experience.  He wants everyone to learn and be a better designer/architect/businessperson every day and with every client.  His expectation is everything that leaves our door is the best we could make it.  And tomorrow it will be even better.

David’s quick with a smile, a laugh and a sarcastic comment or his attempt at a joke.  He knows our responsibility is to make other people and businesses successful, and he takes that seriously, but knows experiencing and enjoying life is even more important.

Many of Shea’s clients have come from David having a meal or drink at a bar and striking up a conversation, offering ideas and advice, sharing travel stories and examples. Many of our clients have been clients for many years, or referrals from other clients. And David still writes mostly handwritten follow up notes, although email helped him be even more prolific and immediate.

And 45 years later, David loves getting up early and walking to work every day (when he’s not traveling and seeing the world).

For me, the company exists in two chapters:  The first twenty years and the last twenty-five years and I’d like to share the amazing summary:

The First Twenty Years

David left his former firm with a goal to open his own company.  He started to line up initial clients, found space and hired a few employees.  But first, he had to pass the architectural registration exam.   And since he committed to paying office rent in a week, it had to be on the first try.

His vision was a firm that completely integrated architecture and interior design to create the most impactful consumer-based spaces, something no other firm had done at this point. Back then, architects built things and interior designers picked things as mostly separate entities.

The Chronology

With four employees, and a pretty decent list of financial institution clients, Shea is incorporated – three days after David Shea passed the national architecture licensing exam on his first try.
David looked at banks as consumer spaces, not transactional spaces. The firm mostly worked on financial institutions from offices to bank branches throughout Minnesota with a strong growth of projects through referrals.

With his consumer focus, it was natural to quickly expand into other industries like hospitality with projects including Boston Sea Party (1979), the historic renovation of Nicollet Island Inn (1980), and the first Leeann Chin restaurant in the country (1983).

With just six employees, Shea also helped completely relocate Northwestern National Bank after a devasting fire hit downtown Minneapolis on Thanksgiving Day in 1982.

Now at 12 employees, Shea became the first design/architectural firm in the state to invest in CAD (Computer Aided Design), a very expensive two workstation mini-computer (meaning it took up a full room in the office).

More notable projects were added including St. Paul’s Union Depot (1983) and the historic renovation of Fitger’s Brewery in Duluth (1984).

Shea’s work continued to gain recognition and more national clients were added to the roster. The team continued to grow, and the office relocated to Butler Square (as Target Center was built in the former office location).

Notable clients were added including Toys R Us and Cole Haan. Notable projects included Norwest Corp’s 19 floor headquarters and Patti’s, the first restaurant from yum! Kitchen + Bakery owner, Patti Soskin.

With knowledge of how a press release works, David learned how to promote Shea’s work, featuring more iconic projects and the introduction of first locations that would go on to become national chains, including:

By this time, Shea did work in almost every major downtown Minneapolis building, from renovations of Peavey, Roanoke Building and Baker Center to the iconic Foshay Tower and City Center. Shea also designed Mick’s in City Center (the predecessor to Goodfellow’s) and over 30 stores in the Mall of America.

Shea celebrated hitting the twenty-year mark and vertically integrated more services with the purchase of a graphic design firm. The team continued to grow and added a New York City office to help serve the rapidly expanding East Coast client base (back before Zoom was a thing).

The firm continued to design more locations for Leeann Chin, including the Asia Grille concept, and led the design for rollouts of Morton’s Steakhouse, Palm Steakhouse, Cole Haan, Toys R Us, and Famous Dave’s.

Shea also remodeled Chicago Place along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and renovated the historic Milwaukee Road Depot, as well as designed Goodfellow’s in City Center, the award-winning The Local on Nicollet Mall, and Lawson Software Corporate Headquarters in St. Paul. And finally, Shea also helped to shape the Galleria mall by creating design standards and designing common area spaces.


At this point in a creative company’s history, several things usually happen; partners are brought on, the firm is sold or merged with another firm, or growth and innovation become stagnant.

For Shea, 20 years went from 4 to 75 employees, growth that went into all aspects of consumer businesses, including retail, hospitality (restaurant and hotel), workplace and financial institutions.

The original vision of seamlessly integrated design now included marketing and business planning, branding, graphic design, interior design and architecture.  And Shea was still the only firm that completely integrated all disciplines instead of keeping them in silos. And that was just the beginning…

The Last 25 years

Shea began offering full integration of design services creating more strategic design and brand clients.

The first SheaLink newsletter (now Shea Ink) showcasing Shea’s work was sent to clients and prospects. Shea began annual support and contributions to the Angel Foundation, which continues today.

We began working with many clients that remain with Shea to this day:

More national and international expansion:

And continued to make a mark on the Twin Cities and with some of Shea’s original clients:

  • General Mills Cereal Adventure in Mall of America
  • Renovation of the historic Milwaukee Road Depot
  • Iconic Ike’s restaurant in Downtown Minneapolis
  • Continued work with banks from our earliest years as they morphed, merged and grew including Wells Fargo, TCF Bank, Western Bank, American Bank, North Star Bank, etc.
  • Solera restaurant and creating locations for Minneapolis’ new generation of chefs
  • Plymouth Ice Arena/Lifetime Fitness
  • Rebranding of the Hennepin Theatre District
  • Relocated the long-standing Dakota Jazz Club to where it remains today

This brought Shea’s first rebranding in history (and introduction of the Shea “meatball” as we call it) and many more long-term client additions, with a business, marketing and branding-based focus. We also learned we could work with national clients even better from one office, and closed our NYC outpost.

With a focus on celebration and renovation of historic properties:

  • Creation of Midtown Exchange (the old Sears building) and design of Midtown Global Market
  • Historic renovation of the Chambers Hotel
  • JB Hudson historic relocation
  • Relocated La Belle Vie to 510 Groveland

The firsts of many well-known and well-loved entities:

Continued regional/national expansion of all above, with the addition of:

Began working on overall rebranding and re-design of major office properties and offices:

  • Renovation and rebranding of Campbell Mithun Tower (now Two22)
  • 100-year anniversary of Butler Square marketing campaign
  • M.A. Mortenson offices
  • BPG Properties partnership on several office properties in Minneapolis and St. Louis
  • Clockwork’s offices
  • Preston Kelly’s offices (recently rebranded and relocated as Preston Spire)

The hospitality client list and the firm significantly grew, including developing and designing a historic building on Hennepin Avenue as Shea’s new office.  One of the Shea’s original employees retires (we see you and appreciate you Steve Haasl), having spent a career at the firm. And we discovered Instagram.

First location for Lunds & Byerlys, still a Shea client today.

More national brands were added:

And more “firsts” of well-loved brands and experiences:

Continued work throughout the Twin Cities:

  • For Lunds & Byerlys: Golden Valley, introduction of Web Lane (you click, we pick) and new locations in Downtown Minneapolis and Downtown St. Paul
  • Wells Fargo Place
  • International Plaza

Shea celebrated turning 40 with our amazing group of more than 50 people, over 6000 projects under our belt and countless parties, happy hours, celebrations, bowling tournaments, holiday parties at Target Field, awards, and pride in the long-standing, successful businesses we’ve helped create.

We’re also proud to say so many of the clients from the early-ish years are still clients and friends today.

A few highlights:

The continued growth of repeat clients:

The restaurants:

The workplace and office towers:

  • First and second major renovation of 60 South Sixth/RBC Plaza
  • 100 Washington Square
  • Fifth Street Towers
  • 10 Missions Media
  • Normandale Lake Office Park
  • Steven Scott rebranding and relocated headquarters
  • Marvin Windows
  • Colle McVoy
  • Preston Spire

Shea upended the health care market, by creating unique consumer-based health care experiences…. just like how David did with financial institutions back in the beginning, with the designs of Salute Dental and multiple locations of Camp Smile.

After 45 years in, we’re still growing and innovating. We created a new division of Shea, Shea Makes, that solely concentrates on sourcing, design-build refreshes, budget management, procurement and assembly/installation to bring Shea’s one-of-a-kind designs to life.

And what’s even more exciting?  The best is yet to come…

  • Chayote Barrio Kitchen opening later this summer in Winter Park, Florida with celebrity chef, Mario Pagan – one of our many Florida restaurant projects in progress
  • Gai Noi for James Beard Award Nominated chef, Ann Ahmed, is gearing up to open soon in Minneapolis
  • New locations for longtime clients including Lunds & Byerly’s, 801 Restaurant Group and yum! Kitchen and Bakery this year, and a renovation of the historic and iconic Surdyk’s Liquor Store
  • And many more exciting openings to come, including three hotels in progress, several country clubs, event spaces, pickleball experiences, coffee shops, and nearly 15 more restaurants in 2023

The best part?

We have nearly 50 of the coolest people here at Shea that genuinely care about every project and every client, big and small. Our group is fun, talented, creative and passionate and it’s a joy for David to walk in every day and work with all of them (his words, not mine). More than 20 of us have been here for 10 years or more, and there’s seven of us in the 20 years+ club. And we’re all excited about the next 45 years (and already planning another big blow out party for our 50th anniversary).

Cheers to 45 years of Shea.

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