What was once one of the biggest footwear factories in Minnesota will be turned into a place for people to kick off their shoes and lay their heads after work.

The money is in place and now a developer of affordable housing is waiting for the federal government to grant St. Paul's Renaissance Box a historic certification before gutting it and transforming it into 70 affordable housing units.

The Renaissance Box, 509 Sibley St., was built in 1914 and used to house the O'Donnell Shoe Co.

"It's important to save these buildings," said Gina Ciganik, vice president of housing development for Aeon. An affordable housing developer based in Minneapolis, Aeon bought the building out of a foreclosure situation in 2006.

The goal is for the Renaissance Box to house workers who have jobs at downtown restaurants, hospitals or other service-industry companies, Ciganik said.

Fifty-six units -- a mix of efficiency and one- and two-bedroom apartments -- will be targeted at people who make between $21,000 and $42,000. The remaining 14 units will be for people who earn between $10,000 and $17,000 and have been homeless.

Financing for the $16 million project is coming from a combination of state and city funds, foundation grants and private investors using federal tax credits. An additional allotment of tax credits through the federal stimulus program helped the project fill in gaps.

The building, valued by Ramsey County at about $1.75 million, will contribute about $56,000 to county tax rolls. Construction is expected to begin early next year and wrap up in early 2011. Frerichs Construction will be the contractor.

When done, the seven-story building will still have an industrial feel. The ceilings are made of corrugated concrete. The floors are concrete. Thick concrete columns connect them.

An addition that was put on the building will be removed and turned into green space.

"It's really encouraging to be able to move these projects forward in a bad economy," said Natalie Fedie, spokeswoman for the St. Paul Planning and Economic Development department. She said the project will add to the momentum of residential development in the Wacouta Commons neighborhood.

The Renaissance Box is Aeon's second project in downtown St. Paul. The Crane Ordway building in Lowertown, built in 1904, had been vacant for 30 years before Aeon bought it in 2004 and spent $11.5 million to convert the old warehouse into 70 affordable housing units.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148