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A new life for an old brewery

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Back in business?
The 150-year old Schmidt's Brewery building has been the home to two breweries, and most recently, a controversial ethanol plant. The building has been vacant since 2004.
MPR Photo/Marisa Helms

Residents who live near the hulking brewery have been hoping for years to find developers like Jeffrey Cohen and his son, Craig Cohen, who lives in the neighborhood.

The senior Cohen, who lives in Maine, told a room full of residents, reporters and city officials that he and his son want to restore and rebuild the 150-year-old landmark.

"My favorite era in history was the 1890s Victorian architecture, so I'd kind of like to see here a mixed-use development where there are the neighborhood uses that we all go to everyday within the site," he said.

The new bosses
Jeffrey Cohen and his son Craig Cohen, are the new owners of a former brewery in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Marisa Helms

Cohen envisions a movie theater, restaurants, housing, and cleaners all within walking distance. But he stresses he'll rely on the advice of people in the neighborhood to bring the vision together.

In fact, Cohen is promising a partnership with the local community council. He says the West Seventh/Fort Road Federation will receive half of any profits from the development.

"I don't think we could be successful, I don't think a good development will occur, without a real economic partnership with the community, so that not only do they participate in profits, and hopefully we're going to be profitable. But they also participate in the process," he said.

Cohen says his venture, called Brewtown LLC, will put up the money. He won't say how much he's paying for the facility, citing confidentiality agreements. But he says it's between $2 and $10 million.

Cohen admits it's an unusual agreement, and he doesn't know of any similar partnership. But he says it makes sense to help the surrounding community stabilize and grow.

Neighbors and city officials like the idea and are optimistic.

St. Paul City Council Member Dave Thune, whose ward includes the brewery, says the deal represents the future of West Seventh Street.

Neighbor Caroline Mars says she's very impressed.

"We like what he's saying because that's always been our interest from day one for this area," she said. "We don't like big-box buildings and so forth, and that's why I think it's going to be a good asset for the neighborhood."

But nothing's likely to happen soon. Cohen says he'll spend the next six months studying the site and another lengthy period of time acquiring design and community input before moving ahead with the redevelopment of the site.