Finding new uses for an old jailhouse


View from Wabasha Bridge towards downtown shows Ramsey County Jail in Red Brick and old West Publishing to the left

All images courtesy the American Institute of Architects

Sometimes it’s hard to understand the logic behind the decisions of our forebearers.

For instance, why would someone build a jailhouse on prime riverfront real estate?

The Ramsey County Adult Detention Center was built in 1979 and many credit its striking architecture and rooftop garden with helping to revive the riverfront. It even received a National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects for its contribution to urban renewal in St. Paul.


A typical jail cell, complete with a view of the Mississippi

But since the inmates were moved to a larger facility in 2003 the jailhouse has sat empty. Numerous attempts to sell the property to developers have fallen through.

What to do?

This weekend, architects and designers will gather to brainstorm their best ideas for making use of the jailhouse. The event is called “Unauthorized Design” and takes place all day Saturday. The public is invited to a presentation and discussion beginning at 4:30pm in the 3rd floor conference room of the neighboring Ramsey County West.


Jail Commons – Each pod has approximately eight jail cells opening off of a two-story community space

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