By: Janet Moore
September 11, 2013
It’s now a bit easier to picture artists living and creating their art in a place where Schmidt, Grain Belt and Pig’s Eye beer were once brewed along St. Paul’s blue-collar W. 7th Street corridor.
Much of the massive 15-acre site — home to the former Schmidt Brewery — has been cleared, abated, shored up and renovated in a $120 million redevelopment project that calls for 247 residential units and 13 new townhouses. So much so that the first residents are slated to move into the former bottling house this November, with the entire project slated for completion by May 2014.
A St. Paul landmark dating back to 1855, the Schmidt property has languished since an ethanol operation there was shuttered in 2004, two years after the final batch of suds was brewed. Enter Plymouth-based Dominium, a national firm with a history of tackling difficult development projects, such as the $100 million-plus Pillsbury A Mill historic warehouse conversion in Minneapolis.
The imprimatur for both projects is similar: Fueled by public and private money, including federal and state historic tax credits, Dominium renovates the property and markets them as affordable units for artists.
“West Seventh is a very established community, and the brewery was such a big part of the history,” said Owen Metz, developer with Dominium. “It’s been vacant for so long, and there have been so many ups and downs, it’s great to have the lights on again and feel like we’re part of the community.”
On Monday, Metz and other Dominium officials gave an informal tour of the complex, which features crenellated towers and Gothic details — indeed, locals have long called the imposing main brewhouse “the castle.”
Construction of the new living quarters by Weis Builders of Richfield (and designed by Minneapolis-based BKV Group) involved retaining much of the architecture’s original details, including exposed brick walls, concrete floors (now polished), wood-slatted ceilings (most of which are 14 feet high), expansive windows and structural I-beams that often poke through the units. At the same time, apartments also feature modern amenities, such as washers and dryers, quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances.
Of the 260 units, Metz said, there are between 125 and 150 floor plans because of the unusual nature of the buildings. “It was definitely an architectural challenge,” he said, noting that one of the oldest parts of the brewhouse had to be shored up after a portion collapsed early in the project.
“Really, the scale of this project is stunning to me,” said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, after he dodged dust and endured 90-degree-plus temperatures on the tour. “I knew it was a big place, but you’ve created a completely new neighborhood — the economic impact of this project [on the area] will be high.”
St. Paul’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority issued $69 million in tax-exempt bonds for the project, which also received more than $4 million in cleanup funds from the city, county and state. Dominium bought the property last fall for $6.2 million.
The maximum annual household income limit at the lofts ranges from $34,620 for one occupant to $57,300 for six occupants. Rents vary from $846 a month for 500- to 680-square-foot studio apartments to $1,229 for a three-bedroom townhouse spanning up to 1,850 square feet.
Artists are defined as painters, writers, performers, Web designers and animators, to name just a few of the disciplines considered suitable for residency. A selection committee, made up of artists, reviews each rental application.
The formula appears to be working at the Schmidt project, which Dominium will also manage. Already more than 100 units have been reserved for would-be tenants.
Beyond typical apartment complex amenities such as common areas, concierge services and a fitness center, the Schmidt lofts feature space designed to accommodate its creative residents, including studios for dance, pottery, play/performance, mixed media, sound and paint, as well as galleries.
But as large as the brewery buildings are, they’re not the only structures on the site. The West 7th/Fort Road Federation, a local community council, bought the brewery’s Rathskeller and keg house in 2011. And local businessmen Bruce Hendry and Glen Nelson, who sold the property to Dominium, held onto a newer warehouse on the grounds, perhaps for redevelopment into a brewpub and museum.