The former Woolworth store in downtown St. Paul could soon be full of people again, this time with office workers instead of clamoring shoppers.
The building on the corner of Minnesota Street and 7th Place will officially open this month as the 428 after a year of renovations to transform it from a long-shuttered five-and-dime store into modern offices.
“This was just a building that was starving for energy,” said Pat Wolf, owner of Commercial Real Estate Services, who has led the redevelopment. “It had good bones.”
On Monday, co-working space Wellworth will open its doors on the building’s top floor. The grand opening for the entire building is slated for Aug. 28.
The much-loved Woolworth store closed in 1994 and remained vacant until last summer when building owner HFS Properties began its estimated $15 million conversion.
The renovation has created some dramatic changes to the old department store. Two additional floors were added to the three-story building. A wall and main staircase were built to create a front lobby. On the second and third floors, floor-to-ceiling windows fill the formerly dark space with light. The fifth floor, one of two new stories, is the cherry on top of the building, enveloped in glass with a large outdoor patio for tenants.
“We are super-excited to be able to bring this building to market, to respect its past but also push it into the future,” Wolf said.
There are several nods to the old store. The tan brick is similar in color to the building’s former exterior. The stairs have a handrail system that mimics an original staircase. Lights from the women’s lounge on the third floor are in the front entryway. The original concrete floor was refinished with a stripe pattern.
Escalators that were in the middle of the store have been removed, with plans to display selected parts on an artifacts wall in the lobby. Sections of the old lunch counter will likely be used by an independent coffee vendor that is close to being finalized to occupy a portion of the first floor. The old escalator sign that used to hang from the ceiling could also be used by the coffee shop.
A Woolworth’s terrazzo floor detail that greets visitors in the 428’s lobby had been found during demolition underneath the wall that runs along 7th Place. Developers decided to reinstall the sign in the floor to remind visitors of the building’s past.
Alongside some of the older touches, the 428 also has plenty of modern features. An electronic directory in the lobby allows visitors to view the building’s energy use and carbon footprint in real time. On the lower level there is space for bike storage and lockers as well as showers.
Building owners are searching for a fitness company that might also want to set up shop. The building is connected by a ground-level door to the Golden Rule Building, which will allow office workers to use the skyway system.
Another important aspect to the building’s design is that it has Well certification, a set of international standards that focuses on how buildings can influence a person’s health and well-being based on factors like air quality, light and fitness.
“This isn’t just a feel-good,” Wolf said about the gold level Well certification.
Developers have also applied for LEED certification. HDR Architecture was the designer of the project and McGough Construction renovated the building.
The Wellworth co-working space will have a community manager, kitchen and member-only patio.
“I believe a lot of connections will happen right here,” said Jamie Rissi, Wellworth operations manager, as she stood in the cafe area earlier this week.
The space includes about 30 open, co-working desks, close to 15 private offices, nearly 10 dedicated open desks and conference rooms.
The 428 has 63,000 square feet of leasable space and has yet to sign a long-term tenant besides Wellworth, which is owned and operated by the building owner.
“This investment is a huge risk in many ways because we are building it speculatively,” Wolf said.
But building owners are confident about finding tenants, she said.
“Pat’s group is providing a unique product, something that’s healthy and green … in this really high-demand category, co-working, flexible space,” said Joe Spartz, president of the Greater St. Paul Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). “It’s really smart.”
The 428 is one of a few recently renovated office buildings in St. Paul. The former Macy’s store a couple blocks from the 428 reopened at the beginning of the year as the Treasure Island Center, a mixed-use project with offices and an ice rink. An office building recently vacated by Ecolab has been repositioned as the Osborn370 and had success with several startups moving into its space.
“In the same way that the housing market was really transformed … these [office] projects are also important to help prove to the marketplace that St. Paul is a great place to invest,” said Joe Spencer, the head of the newly formed St. Paul Downtown Alliance.
Spencer, who will lease a private office in the Wellworth space, said he is excited about the building’s opening and how it will help revitalize 7th Place.
“You have the kind of opportunity for that to become a really cool asset,” he said.