St. Paul picks Macy's site developer; Wild practice rink planned

Current plans, with Wild practice rink
Current conceptual plans call for a practice rink for the Minnesota Wild above retail and business space.
Courtesy St. Paul Port Authority

Updated 4:55 p.m. | Posted 12:37 p.m.

The planned redevelopment of the downtown St. Paul Macy's building took a major step forward Friday as an Excelsior-based real estate investment firm agreed to remake the property.

The project is expected to include a hockey practice facility for the Minnesota Wild along with a complete transformation of the tan brick building's exterior.

"There's going to be a whole lot of glass on Wabasha Street," said Tom Collins, spokesperson for the St. Paul Port Authority, the city's development arm. "This is going to be a spectacular development."

The agency's board is scheduled to vote on the development agreement at its meeting Tuesday.

With developer Oppidan Investment Co. on board, the port authority should also be able to finalize an agreement to put in a 26,000 square foot Walgreens store on the street and skyway levels, Collins said, adding there's also interest from several other potential tenants, including an unnamed brew pub, restaurants and various businesses looking for office space downtown.

Friday's announcement also moves the Minnesota Wild's plans one step closer to reality. The team is interested in building an enclosed practice rink on the building's roof.

Walgreens in downtown St. Paul
St. Paul officials have chosen a developer to bring new life to the old downtown Macy's site, at left, in downtown. City leaders purchased the building last year hoping to land a splashy project for the site.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News file

Jamie Spencer, the team's vice president of new business development, said the team hopes its vision for a practice headquarters at the Macy's site aligns with Oppidan's.

A practice facility for the Wild has been a top priority since the team's inception 15 years ago, and a downtown St. Paul practice site would be a right fit and a large part of creating a competitive team, Spencer added.

The team currently practices out of several different rinks around the Twin Cities.

"A dedicated practice facility is a high priority for the organization," Spencer added. "We'd love for that to be in the former Macy's building."

The deal calls for Oppidan to contribute $5 million in cash to the project and guarantee a $47 million construction loan.

The city's port authority would contribute the building, which it bought from Macy's last year for $3 million.

While the port authority would be entitled to only 10 percent of the profits from the project, it would maintain an equal voice in all decisions, through a nonprofit subsidiary.

When St. Paul city leaders bought the Macy's building last year, they'd hoped to quickly land a splashy project for the site. Officials, however, have had to repeatedly scale back ambitions as several plans fell through.

Finding a developer for the building has cost the Port more than $1 million on top of the purchase price.

It spent about $40,000 a month marketing and maintaining the cavernous structure. It had originally hoped to flip the property within seven months, but it's taken three times that long.

Oppidan Vice President Paul Tucci says it took time for his company to work through all the complexities of transforming the building.

"I'm not sure anyone has done a project exactly like this," he said.

Oppidan has adapted buildings for reuse before, but at 360,000 square feet, Macy's would be the largest. The investment company has led 300 developments around the country and in Canada.

Downtown St. Paul was once home to eight department stores. Macy's was the last one left, when it closed in early 2013.

City leaders were anxious about what would fill that void. At one point, a developer wanted to turn it into a giant parking ramp coupled with office space for the Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program.

Mayor Chris Coleman called that the "antithesis" of his vision for the site. He stepped in, killed that deal and directed the port authority to buy the building and take control of the situation.

It was a big gamble, and it didn't turn into the high-end office tower Coleman was hoping for originally. However, he says the move has paid off.

"We took a little bit of risk, but it was a very calculated risk that we tried to guard against as much as possible," Coleman said.

"I've lived in this town from the day I was born and I knew there was so much more potential to it, and that it was worth taking that chance to seize the momentum that was already starting to build," Coleman said.

The Macy's redevelopment announcement appears to the latest in a series of recent development wins for the city.

The St. Paul Saints wrapped up their first season at the new city-owned ballpark with a seventy percent increase in ticket sales. The team drew some 400,000 fans to Lowertown.

The city also announced it will sell a nearby apartment building called the Lofts at Farmer's Market for $13 million. St. Paul will even make a small profit on that deal.

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