Empire Building in St. Paul to become boutique hotel under owner’s plan

Madison Equities plans to turn its Empire Building into a boutique hotel, the latest downtown St. Paul office building to face conversion.

The St. Paul firm is partnering with Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Stencil Group on the $20 million project at 360 N. Robert St. The development team has yet to hire an architect and sign a contract with a hotel brand and operator, but said the hotel will be between 80 and 100 rooms.

Jim Crockarell of Madison Equities said multiple factors contributed to his decision to change the use. The Empire Building, alternatively known as the Manhattan Building, is not directly connected to the skyway and lacks the space needed to add the type of amenities that today’s office user desires. Nearly all of the building’s current tenants are willingly relocating to one of two other downtown properties, either the First National Bank Building or the U.S. Bank Center, that Madison also owns, Crockarell said.

With the Minnesota Museum of American Art now on the first floor of the adjacent Pioneer-Endicott Building, Crockarell said, “There’s a neat opportunity to create an artistic boutique.” He pointed to a handful of similar concepts around the country, like 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Ky.

Madison Equities also owns the one-story building next door, the Endicott Arcade, and would turn it into the hotel’s lobby. Crockarell is in talks with the owners of Hat Trick Lounge, which currently occupies that space, on a relocation plan.

The Empire Building, built in 1889, was designed by Clarence Johnston Sr., a well-known Minnesota architect who also designed the Glensheen Historic Estate in Duluth, Northrop auditorium and other buildings on the University of Minnesota campus.

Project partner Stencil Group is a recent entrant into the Twin Cities real estate scene but has entered St. Paul with gusto. The firm purchased the former Pioneer Press building at 345 Cedar St. last year with plans to convert it into 154 upscale apartments.

Stencil is also pairing up with Madison Equities on converting the neighboring 10-story Degree of Honor Building, at 325 Cedar St., into housing as well. Stencil’s previous Minnesota work was a residential development in Rochester.

The developers plan to apply for historic tax credits to fund the project and, if all goes well, hope to complete it by late 2017 or 2018.