New life at the old Schmidt Brewery

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(Rachel Gorski, Nance Derby Davidson, Jason Gorski and Diane Gerth)

Free beer wasn’t the only reason St. Paulites packed the basement bar of the old Schmidt Brewery last night.

Hundreds of residents toured the rathskeller for an open house celebrating the impending revival of the West End icon. The neighborhood’s Fort Road Federation, which closed on the building earlier this year, is redeveloping it into a space that could house two small eateries, an event center, and offices. And a Twin Cities developer, Dominium, has begun marketing plans to build studios and about 250 lofts for working artists into the complex.

After many dashed dreams, the long-vacant brewery is the closest it’s come to being reborn. (And as a reporter covering St. Paul over the years, I acknowledge that I’ve probably written that line too many times to count.)

But this time, it seems to be for real.

“I’m a believer. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid,” said Nance Derby Davidson, an artist who lives near the brewery. “It just seems that there’s a lot more cooperation and local people pulling together.”

Davidson remembers wrinkling her nose when the brewery became home to an ethanol plant in 2000. “It reeked. It stunk,” she says.

The ethanol operation ceased in 2004, and beer hasn’t been produced on site since 2002.

Last summer, the federation began replacing the roof to the rathskeller building. Local architect Jim Glendening says he won’t change much to the building, but will try to highlight some of the history, such as an old-fashioned vault on the first floor.

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