Historic Dayton building repurposed in downtown St. Paul

The Wild will train in the basement, practice on the roof

St. Paul “Made in Minnesota” mural (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

A historic community asset, vacant since 2013, is now reborn in downtown St. Paul.

The former Dayton/Macy department store building has been redeveloped as a mixed-use facility, and according to the Saint Paul Port Authority it is now “positioned to rejuvenate the center of downtown St. Paul” much as the St. Paul Saints ballpark did for the Lowertown neighborhood. Businesses also grew along Kellogg Boulevard and West Seventh Street years earlier when the Minnesota Wild moved into a brand-new arena built in the area, says Authority officials.

Sitting in the Authority’s downtown St. Paul conference room, Senior Vice President, Marketing and PR Andrea Novak offered the MSR a brief timeline of the process involved in the transformation.

“When we purchased the building” in early 2014 for $3 million, “at one time we were looking at leveling the building,” she recalled. “But the cost of digging that hole would have cost up to $13 million and probably would have been significantly higher than that. When we took a look at the building, it was built with such quality infrastructure. [Then] we looked at transforming it into residential space, but it was so wide — it takes up an entire city block.”

Then the Wild started looking for a practice facility. The old Dayton building was a possibility, and the Authority began looking for investors to redevelop the place, Novak continued.

“It took five years…to find the best use of the building. We talked to so many developers and pitched the idea, but so many people couldn’t see how it could get done and didn’t believe in the project. We knocked on a lot of doors. We kept going until we got a yes.”

Hempel Companies, who manages the redevelopment, “saw the vision,” Novak said. They created the joint venture Go Wild, LLC and have 75 percent ownership in the building; the Authority owns the remaining 25 percent and invested an additional $5.5 million to remove all asbestos from the building and prepare it for redevelopment.

Andrea Novak, Sr. V. P, Marketing and PR , St. Paul Port Authority (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

“It took five years…to find the best use of the building,” The historic building, once a downtown retail shopping hub, now features a basement training facility for the Wild 40 feet underground “in a space that has not been used for 20-30 years. It’s the ultimate man cave,” Novak joked.

A two-story national drug store chain along with TRIA Orthopedic Clinic also have space, as does the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency that moved in last September and occupies the fourth floor. Soon to come: two new restaurants and a brewery.

But the new enclosed roof-top TRIA ice rink is the building’s “crown jewel,” as Novak calls it — an NHL-quality ice sheet with 1,100 seating capacity that is used for Wild practices. “Having them commit to the project and to downtown St. Paul really helped bring the rest of the tenants to the space,” she said of the Wild’s involvement. The rink also is the home of the Hamline University’s men’s and women’s hockey teams for practices and home games.

“Treasure Island and TRIA came in to make this more of a community asset. Treasure Island was extremely generous in providing sponsorship funding to help center costs of the project,” for which they receive naming rights.

A new 300-foot “Made in Minnesota” mural is being installed on one corner of the building’s exterior. “We wanted to make sure it has kids of color,” Novak says of the Terrence Fogarty creation.

“He painted a picture of real hockey players. We want the inside and outside to match” the intended equity of the new center, which also will be home for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to play hockey, academic tutoring, and other public activities, she pointed out.

“This is not where our specialty is. We are an economic development agency; we are not a sports organization,” Novak says of Equity on Ice, an initiative by Capital City Properties. The not-for-profit arm of the Authority was established to raise funds for nonprofit organizations to use the ice rink and other youth outreach programming.

Minneapolis-based DinoMights youth hockey program also is a partner. Brownbody, a Black interpretive dance company, and the St. Paul Police Athletic League are also considering leasing space at the center.

“We want the rink and the center to reflect the community,” Novak stressed. “We expect 750,000 people to come to the building” each year. More importantly, she noted that the new center in essence filled “a hole” in the middle of downtown St. Paul.

A January 31 Equity on Ice evening fundraiser is planned at the center’s rink “so we can raise funds…for ice time” and other programs, said Novak. It is open to the public; more details can be found on www.equityonice.org.

Since 1962, the Saint Paul Port Authority has helped develop 17 business centers, which has helped contribute at least 25,000 jobs in St. Paul. “We are now focusing on how we can do a better job of that,” Novak concluded. “We need to focus on that in 2018-19.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.