Excelsior has new take on Iron Range power plant

First National Bank Building of St. Paul, which has been sold to a New York investment partnership for less than it sold at the top in 2007, but which is going to get several million dollars worth of improvements. It�s kind of the Grand Dame� building downtown. It was built in three stages, 1915, 1931 and 1970. Photo credit: Marquette Real Estate Group

Excelsior Energy, which spent more than $40 million in state and federal money designing a clean-coal power plant that never got built in northern Minnesota, is taking fresh steps to revive the project as a natural gas-burning generator. The Minneapolis-based company recently asked regulators whether some of the environmental studies from the failed coal-to-gas project can be used as the basis for air-quality permits needed for a combined-cycle natural gas power plant.

CEO Tom Micheletti said Excelsior still needs, and hasn't yet found, a utility customer for the electricity, a shortcoming of its coal project. But he said the potential retirements of old coal power plants and uncertainty about nuclear power suggest a need for the plant by 2020.

It is proposed north of Taconite, Minn., and would cost $800 million to $1 billion, he said. Each unit, and there could be one or two, would generate about 550 megawatts, roughly the size of new natural gas plants built in the Twin Cities, he said.

Excelsior's clean-coal effort received state loans and federal aid, and was in line for a federal loan guarantee that it didn't use. Micheletti said the company would seek only private financing this time, and offer to utilities a ready-to-build power plant.

The state Public Utilities Commission is accepting public comments on the matter through Friday, via eDockets at www.puc.state.mn.us. The docket number is 06-668.

DAVID SHAFFER

NEW OWNER FOR ST. PAUL'S FIRST NATIONAL BUILDING

Downtown St. Paul's First National Bank, grande dame of the city's office buildings, was sold for $19.8 million this month to a New York real estate partnership.

That's a big discount from the $27 million paid by a Chicago investment concern in a richer market in 2007.

Aaron Barnard, director of brokerage services at Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq , said occupancy is rising and several million will be invested in a more energy-efficient future.

"We're in the early stages of discussing improvements to the parking garage, internal and external landscaping, improvements to elevators ... to make it the nicest building it can be," Barnard said. "The market is slowly recovering and tenants are talking expansion."

The landmark structure with the red "1st" ablaze atop its tower actually is three connected buildings erected in 1917, 1933 and 1970.

The building boasts about 700,000 square feet of leasable space. Big tenants include the Minnesota Department of Economic Development, a unit of GE Capital, the Briggs & Morgan law firm and the Mairs and Power money-management firm.

HYATT REGENCY REDUX COMPLETED AS HOTEL BOOKINGS RECOVER

The Hyatt Regency on Nicollet Mall downtown has completed a $25 million renovation, on the heels of last year's $75 million acquisition of the 1980-vintage hotel by a joint venture of Haberhill LLC, Starwood Capital Group and Hyatt Hotels Corp.

Meanwhile, downtown hotel occupancy this year could top the record of 2008, which was boosted by the Republican National Convention, according to Meet Minneapolis, the sales bureau for the Minneapolis Convention Center. Meet Minneapolis, once known as the Minneapolis Convention & Visitors Association, reports that total convention attendance in 2011 hit 768,000 people, the best year since 2008.

The Hyatt and other hoteliers are ready for more business. San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels last year spent about $6 million updating the 140-room Grand Hotel Minneapolis, which once was the Minneapolis Athletic Club.

And Radisson has indicated plans for an upgrade of its flagship downtown hotel.

The remodeled Hyatt's 533 guest rooms feature new furniture, upgraded electronics and connections and original artwork that ranges from local artist Mat Ollig's view of the old Gold Medal Flour building overlooking the Mississippi River to a modern rendering of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman created by Mark Khaisman, who used Minnesota-based 3M masking tape as his medium for the piece. The new Prairie Kitchen & Bar specializes in locally grown and seasonal items.

SHORT TAKES

•The primary securities regulator for investment advisers who manage less than $100 million in client assets switches from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to the Minnesota Department of Commerce on July 28, under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform act that was passed in 2010. On Tuesday, Commerce is holding a 90-minute information seminar at 1 p.m. at the Minneapolis Central Library (Pohlad Hall) for interested parties about compliance exams, state securities regulations and more. Commissioner Mike Rothman and his securities-division deputy will be present. About 350 Minnesota advisers will be affected. Register for Tuesday's event with Ben Hill at (651) 296-5282 or by e-mail at benjamin.hill@state.mn.us.

•An IT association with a convoluted handle has changed its name. Minnesota Information Technology: Executive Networking Group, which says it is the state's leading peer-to-peer professional development group, has changed its name to "Think IT Association." The new website (www.thinkITassociation.org) will allow members to sign up for events, download past meeting information, and engage with other members. Think IT, with 600 members, provides professional development groups for senior-level IT leadership, IT procurement, IT project management and IT opportunity management for experienced job seekers.

•Congratulations to more than 300 Team Donaldson bicyclists and volunteers who raised $214,000 in the annual MS150 round-trip trek to Duluth the weekend of June 9-10. Several dozen Minnesota workplace teams raised more than $3 million combined. Donaldson CEO Bill Cook, a regular on the employee-driven fundraiser, was joined by three board members on the 150-mile trek for a good cause: Mike Hoffman of Toro, John Wiehoff of C.H. Robinson and Guillaume "Bassy" Bastiaens, retired from Cargill. The graybeards handled the 90-degree temperatures and strong headwinds in good form.

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