US. St. Paul Readies for Schmidt Brewery Redevelopment

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It’s one of the largest redevelopment projects in St. Paul history.

The Schmidt Brewery site, which has sat vacant for years, is about to be transformed into hundreds of mixed income lofts.

On Saturday, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman talked about what the project means for the city. Coleman grew up just blocks from the brewery. He even claims the first word he learned to spell was “Schmidt,” thanks to the fact he saw it every time he looked up.

“In a developed city, an opportunity like this doesn’t come along every day,” he said.

Re-making the brewery site has been attempted for years, stalled most recently by the economy. But finally, if all goes as planned, the decaying icon will soon be turned into a relevant destination once again. “We are ready to go,” Coleman said. “We’ve been ready to go for a long time.”

The mayor calls the brewery “the old castle;” it’s a 15 acre site that will soon transform into 250 units of housing. A Plymouth-based developer bought “the castle” and all its drawbridges, and moats, for $6.2 million. Construction will cost another $120 million.

“It takes a lot of persistence, a lot of creativity and a lot of different partners coming together to make it happen.” Coleman said.

Among them: the City of St. Paul, the Housing Redevelopment Authority, county clean-up funding, and community development block grant funding.

Construction starts Monday. The first phase is clean-up. “We suspect that there are some environmental issues that need to be addressed,” Coleman said.

Much of the new housing will be designated for artists, to use as live work-spaces. The goal is to foster their innovative spirit to bring a renewed sense of vibrancy to this area of St. Paul.

Colin Hamilton, of Arts Space, the country’s largest real estate developer for the arts, said, “When you look at this project, combined with what already exists in Lowertown, Frogtown, and northeast Minneapolis, the Twin Cities is going to have more affordable housing for artists than any other place in the country. So the opportunity to really create, or ramp up, this region as a destination for artists is big.”

He added, “They (artists) can’t bring a lot of financial capital. But they bring a ton of creativity and a ton of sweat equity. They do a lot of improvements to green spaces, they tend to get engaged with after-school programming, and they do the kinds of things that turn spaces into places where we all want to be.”

There’s also hope that the new Schmidt property will still have room for a new brewery. “You never know, maybe there’ll be one in the future here,” Coleman said, “but probably a lot smaller scale than the old one.”

Of course, none of this will happen over night. Final completion of the project isn’t slated until 2015.