Fourth time's the charm?

The owners of the old Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul sure hope so.

They have purchase agreements with two buyers who plan to turn the 15-acre complex into housing, stores and offices. They're also helping to get the property, which lies about 2 miles west of downtown on W. 7th Street, designated as a historic place.

It's the fourth attempt since 2004 to redevelop the site.

"It looks pretty good as far as the viability of moving ahead," said Dave Kreitzer, who represents the landowners, Minnetonka-based BHGDN.

His optimism is matched by those involved. The hopeful buyers are familiar with the site and have been sticking with it despite the collapse of a deal in which they were involved in 2008.

Dominium, a real estate management and development company based in Plymouth, wants to buy the two biggest buildings, the brew house and bottling house. The company would build 235 units of low-income rental housing where artists could live and work, including 16 rental townhouses targeted at families, said Owen Metz, senior development associate for Dominium. In all, Dominium would own about 8 acres. A purchase price wasn't disclosed.

The West Seventh/Fort Road Federation, the neighborhood's community planning and development group, intends to buy the front office building and restore the basement rathskeller to a bar/restaurant and have space for offices. The nonprofit also is looking to buy the keg house to use for retail businesses and an acre of land for other uses, said Ed Johnson, the organization's executive director. The organization would own about 6 acres of the property. The purchase price is about $1.5 million.

Closings on both deals are expected in 2011.

History helps

Beer was brewed on the site beginning in the mid-1850s.

In 1991, a group led by businessman Bruce Hendry bought and reopened the brewery. Beermaking continued until 2002, when Minnesota Brewing Co. closed. Gopher State Ethanol, which began production in 2000, operated at the plant until 2004, when it closed and filed for bankruptcy. The property owners have been trying to sell since then.

Negotiations have proceeded this far in the past and failed, but the parties involved are more confident this time because of support from the city, a new financing option from the state and a willingness to pursue making the complex a historic district.

Getting historic designation would make the project eligible for new state historic tax-credit financing and would allow access to federal tax credits. Keeping the housing aimed toward low wage earners would enable low-income tax-credit financing. The buyers and city have been looking at tax-exempt bonds, creating a tax-increment financing (TIF) district and using excess TIF funds. The project will cost about $75 million.

So far, about $1.8 million has been put toward the project in city sales tax money and Metropolitan Council and state pollution cleanup grants.

The project was included under Mayor Chris Coleman's recently announced Rebuild St. Paul campaign, which aims to use public financing to spur broader investment to complete projects citywide.

"This is a really important project and we will do our very best to fund it," said Cecile Bedor, director of the city's department of Planning and Economic Development.

The castle-like structure, unused for so long, has been a black eye, Johnson said. "Clearly, it's the icon of the neighborhood," he said.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148