It appears that a historic St. Paul neighborhood has prevailed in its fight to save a piece of its history.
St. Paul’s oldest municipal building, a former firehouse near W. 7th Street, will be redeveloped rather than razed, thanks to a $500,000 forgivable loan from the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Council Member Rebecca Noecker announced Thursday.
Details of what the firehouse might become were not yet available. But Noecker praised the work of neighborhood activists who scrambled to save the old station after discovering a developer’s plan to knock it down to make way for a new Marriott hotel.
The Hope Engine Company No. 3 firehouse was built in 1872 and remained in operation as a fire station until 1965. In March, neighbors learned of impending plans to tear it down and took the developer to court to stop it.
Both sides have been in negotiations for months, seeking a way to move ahead with plans for a new hotel in an increasingly desirable area of the city while preserving a sturdy piece of St. Paul’s past.
On Thursday afternoon, Noecker, who represents the W. 7th Street neighborhood on the City Council, sent out an announcement that read:
“After months of concern and activism over the fate of Engine Company #3 Firehouse, the city’s oldest public building, the Housing & Redevelopment Authority (HRA) yesterday authorized a forgivable loan to the developers to preserve and redevelop the firehouse.”
She added: “The committed neighbors in the area deserve a huge thank you for their efforts in raising awareness of the building’s significance. ... I also appreciate the developers’ willingness to come to the table and figure out a better way forward.”
According to Noecker, HRA commissioners authorized a forgivable loan of $500,000 for redevelopment of the firehouse, at Leech Street and Grand Avenue. Local developers Jim Kelly and Dave Brooks are developing the hotel and will also develop the firehouse.
“Specific plans for its use haven’t been determined,” according to the statement from Noecker.
The area, also known as Uppertown, comprises the West End, Little Bohemia and Irvine Park neighborhoods and boasts homes dating back to the 1850s. It did not take area residents long to mobilize once they learned of plans to tear down the firehouse.
“This, more than any other neighborhood in the city, has cut its teeth on preservation battles,” attorney Tom Schroeder said back in April. Schroeder worked pro bono with the group fighting to save the station.
Jim Sazevich, a historian and area resident, said neighbors worked for “dozens and dozens of hours” to reach this point. He credited Brooks’ willingness to work with the community.
Most of all, Sazevich said, neighbors are thrilled.
“The buzz is going through the community right now. It’s exciting for all of us,” he said. “It is a neighborhood landmark.”