Schmidt Brewery rehab progress revealed

The bottle house at the former Schmidt Brewery. (MPR photo/Jon Collins)

Growing up in the West Seventh area of St. Paul, Dave Bredemus said he could see the Schmidt Brewery just outside his bedroom window.

“This is an icon on West 7th — it’s not just where people worked, everybody who grew up in this whole neighborhood saw this their whole lives and it was part of their upbringing and part of who they were,” Bredemus said. “The fact that it’s going to become a place for people to live again is going to be wonderful.”

A hallway in the bottle house at the newly rehabbed Schmidt Artist Lofts. (MPR photo/Jon Collins)

This November, after almost a decade of standing empty, the rehabbed brewery complex will open to its first residents.

The Schmidt Artist Lofts will eventually include 260 artist apartments of affordable housing, including 13 totally new townhouses. Rents range from $846 for a studio apartment to $1,229 for a three-bedroom apartment.

Bredemus said the brewery is one of the final pieces in the surrounding  neighborhood’s renewal.

“Seeing it vacant, especially in the ’70s or ’80s, it sent a message that West Seventh was in decline,” Bredemus said. “The neighborhood has radically changed; it’s a study in urban America in how to turn around a neighborhood.”

Plymouth-based Dominium hosted a sneak peak of the Schmidt Artist Lofts on Monday night. The development drew enthusiastic reviews from the gathering of community representatives, preservationists and politicians. Standing under a preserved giant vat in the lobby of the brew house, Dominium’s Owen Metz said the developer tried not to mess with the buildings’ historical nature.

The brew house lobby at Schmidt Artist Lofts keeps the building’s industrial look intact. (MPR photo/Jon Collins)

“We’ll let the history show through,” Metz said. “We’re not going to try to make it perfectly clean, so where you see chipped plaster and brick showing through, we’re probably going to leave some of that exposed.”

The townhouses and some apartments in the historic bottle house, many of them lofts, will be ready for residents in November. The 126 units in the 250,000 square foot brew house will be finished in the first half of 2014. He said about 100 of the units are already leased.

“Since they’re artist apartments, we wanted to build them to be large and have a lot of space for residents to work within their apartment,” Metz said. “We designed about 30,000 square feet of artist studio space within the building, some in the basement — people can work in their apartment or work in the shared common space that is included in the residents’ rent.”

A hallway on the upper floors of the former Schmidt Brewery, which is being rehabbed into artist housing. (MPR photo/Jon Collins)

Will O’Keefe, Communication & Programs Coordinator for the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, said his organization is pleased with the rehab plans.

“They’ve done a wonderful job of keeping so much of the character of the historic buildings, that’s really unique,” O’Keefe said. “This is not a cookie-cutter project, and it took a lot of creativity and a lot of hard work for them to pull this off.”

The historic Rathskeller and keg house are owned by the West Seventh/Fort Road Federation.  The federation is looking for tenants and working to rehab the properties.

St. Paul City Council Member David Thune, who used to work at the brewery, has struggled to find a solution to the empty or underutilized brewery complex for decades. He said it’s hard to overestimate the impact the new residents brought in by the project will have on the neighborhood.

The upper floors of the brew house at the former Schmidt Brewery (MPR photo/Jon Collins)

“It’s going to be somewhere around 600 new people living in the community — that’s going to be  are real game changer,” Thune said. “It’s an infusion of new blood that fits into the old blood that’s already here.”

The main brewery buildings on the 15-acre site were constructed in the 1930s, according to the city. It later was the site of an ethanol plant, which ceased operation in 2004 following neighbors’ complaints.