Gary Coverston was 12 years old when his dad managed the restaurant at the Woolworth five-and-dime store in downtown St. Paul. For him, that meant slices of German chocolate cake or malted milkshakes on the house.

This week, Coverston joined hundreds of people for a last look before HFS Properties, the latest owner of the long-vacant building, begins a renovation that could cost up to $15 million and will turn it into offices.

“It is neat to come back,” said Coverston, who is now 72. “Call it nostalgia.”

The tile floor had faded, but the lunch counter was still there, along with an escalator and a red-lettered sign nearby that appeared to have survived from the mid-1950s.

The store closed in 1994 and the space on the corner of Minnesota Street and 7th Place E. has been vacant since. Its revival is the latest in downtown St. Paul’s makeover.

“I think it’s a great neighborhood already and this has been the only building in the neighborhood that has not been updated,” said Pat Wolf, owner of Commercial Real Estate Services, which has taken the lead on the renovation. “It will have a positive impact on a key corner.”

The renovation of the three-story building will start early next year and take about a year to complete.

The 42,000-square-foot structure is dark with little natural light. The renovation plans call for floor-to-ceiling windows and a rooftop patio with an added glass conference space.

Designers at Minneapolis-based HDR Architecture are trying to maintain some of the original building’s features. The lunch counter could possibly be used in a break room. The outer shell of the escalator could become part of a staircase, Wolf said.

“We are trying to respect the character of the existing building and just modernize it,” Wolf said.

While the building doesn’t have any specific office tenants slated, Wolf said, she thinks it would provide a unique opportunity for companies. “I think it’s kind of a one-of-a-kind in St. Paul,” she said.

Renovation of the building was made possible after its long-term lease expired and was transferred last year to HFS, which also owns the nearby Golden Rule Building and the 81 on Seventh building.

The Golden Rule, which also used to be department store space, was renovated into an office building in the 1980s.

The 81 on Seventh building was used by the Golden Rule as a showroom and storage facility until the 1930s or 1940s and later was occupied by the Northern Furniture Company. It was renovated and reopened in the mid-2000s as an office building.


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