Cleaning Up House: Developing Brownfields into Affordable Housing

Industry Insights

In the heart of the working-class West Seventh neighborhood, just southwest of downtown Saint Paul, stands the towering, castle-like Bottling House and Brew House. This former Schmidt Brewery complex has been given a new life as affordable live-work units for area artists.

For over 100 years, the 18-acre site was home to a series of breweries and at one time was the largest brewery in Minnesota. Shortly after Prohibition, it was serving thirsty Minnesotans as the nation’s seventh-largest brewery. But in the face of increasing competition, the facility shuttered in 2002. Following a short run as an ethanol production facility, the property was slated to be razed to make room for a Walmart, but ultimately sat vacant for over a decade. The contamination from a century of industrial use stymied any potential development. Enter local affordable housing developer, Dominium, who envisioned a new transit-oriented use for the property, drawing on its historic character and iconic architecture.

The first step in redevelopment required remediation of a myriad of environmental conditions, including soil contaminated with poly aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), lead, and arsenic. Removal of underground storage tanks, significant asbestos and lead-based paint abatement, as well as installation of sub-slab vapor systems, would be required for all of the new residential uses. The total remediation costs ran upwards of $3.5 million. Ramsey County contributed $300,000 in Environmental Response Funds, other remediation grants had to be acquired, and the developer covered the remaining balance.

One of the unique steps in this project also included the historical designation of the site. Once recognized as one of “Minnesota’s 10 most endangered historic places,” the former brewery is now part of a new historic district listed on the National Register for Historic Places. As an adaptive reuse, the $130 million project created 247 individually unique one, two, and three-bedroom rental lofts and flats, and 13 three-bedroom townhomes on a property adjacent to the bottling house. These units are not only affordable, but attractive to artists with a $42,000 maximum income restriction for a single-person household. Onsite amenities include paint, clay, sound, and dance studios; a performance space; and a rooftop deck with views of the Mississippi River and downtown Saint Paul. The development was fully leased before opening in 2014, and remains 100 percent leased today.

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