The old Gillette site in St. Paul's Lowertown has sat half-empty for several years, a relic of another era as manufacturers moved on or went bust.
Now it seems like everyone wants a piece of the old shampoo factory.
The two owners of the 21-acre site, which sits across the street from the St. Paul Farmers Market, are in a tug of war with both the state Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the Metropolitan Council, which want parts of the property for their projects. The St. Paul Saints and the city of St. Paul, too, have been eyeing part of the spot for a new ballpark.
"It's got to be one of the most complicated pieces of dirt in the state," said Tom Whaley, executive vice president of the Saints.
The team is waiting until the dust settles from the MnDOT and Met Council negotiations with the owners, Whaley said. The Saints did a feasibility study last year that showed a ballpark would fit nicely directly on the north side of the site, he said. There's a "decent chance" the team will proceed with plans for that site, he said, but it's in wait-and-see mode. And, of course, the Saints would still need $25 million from the state.
MnDOT has already started its eminent-domain proceedings. On Oct. 5, it takes possession of 109,000 square feet of the site, or about 2.5 acres, east of the shuttered factory building to make way for an off-ramp for the new Lafayette Bridge.
Meanwhile, the Met Council in May made an unsuccessful offer for 14 acres of the site to turn into a maintenance facility to store and clean rail cars for the new Central Corridor transit line. On June 23, it voted to use eminent domain to take 180,000 square feet of it to convert one of the buildings, 340 Broadway St. It will take action by the end of July if it can't strike a deal with the owners, said Mark Fuhrmann, program director for rail projects for the Met Council. Negotiations are ongoing.
The Gillette site is actually two low-slung 1960s-era buildings -- 310 E. 5th St. and 340 Broadway St. -- as well as some other parcels. Gillette operated a factory and distribution center there churning out products for its White Rain line, including shampoo and Dippity-do hair gel. In 2000, Gillette sold the factory and line to Diamond Products Co., a Tampa, Fla., personal care products company. Property records indicate Diamond Products paid $4.5 million for 310 E. 5th St.
Diamond Products shut the factory down in 2005.
NorthMarq is marketing 835,000 square feet of buildings on the 21-acre site for $17 million. Neither MnDOT nor the Metropolitan Council will say what they have offered the owners.
But it's not $17 million.
"We haven't accepted their price. It's not enough. The answer is the same on both of them," said Arthur Priesz.
Priesz, a retired attorney in Ivanhoe, Minn., is part of a small group of Twin Cities investors called M. Rasoir Ltd. that owns 14 acres of the Gillette site, including 340 Broadway. Property records show they paid $2.2 million for it in 1992 and that its market value is now about $3.75 million. Priesz said Gillette leased the 14 acres from them. Diamond Products owns about 7 acres, he said.
Todd Hanson, a senior vice president with NorthMarq, is marketing the site and negotiating for Diamond Products, which couldn't be reached.
"There's going to be a lot of discussion before we know exactly the final result here," Hanson said.
Fuhrmann, at the Met Council, said he hasn't heard of any opposition since it voted to use eminent domain. Fuhrmann said it's in the public good not only because of the regional benefits of the Central Corridor rail line, but because the Met Council has a $42 million budget to spiff up the building with a new facade on the west side facing the Farmers Market, adding windows and 5,000 square feet of retail. The new maintenance facility alone could generate 150 full-time jobs, he said.
"We'll bring it back to life," Fuhrmann said of the building.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683