St. Paul residents squinted through the rain to check out that red No. 1. The illuminated 1st sign, which has shone above St. Paul for decades, went dark in February. It returned to the city’s skyline Tuesday with an environmentally friendly twist.

After a storm knocked out part of the 50-foot sign’s lights last winter, Madison Equities, the company that owns the building, decided to replace its brittle neon with LED rope lighting.

St. Paul resident Maggie Schultz said the city has not looked the same without the sign lit up, and she was one of many excited to see it return. “It’s one of the things we have that’s just ours,” Schultz said.

“This really is, for us, the symbol of the city of St. Paul,” Mayor Chris Coleman said. “I also hope it’s a beacon for our future as the city that is the most sustainable.”

The switch to LED lighting is one piece of the energy-efficient upgrades Madison Equities completed this year at the First National Bank Building and two nearby properties, US Bank Center and 375 Jackson.

The company did a $12 million overhaul of the buildings, including revamping the heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting systems, spokesman Dan Thiede said.

The energy the company is saving could power 1,235 average residential homes, according to Xcel Energy estimates.

Building owners financed most of the costs through the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. St. Paul Port Authority administers the program, which allows property owners to pay for energy upgrades as a property tax assessment over up to 20 years.

Madison Equities’ three-building project is likely the most expensive in the national program’s history, said Peter Klein, the Port Authority’s vice president of finance. The PACE program started in 2008 in California and exists across the country.

Madison Equities expects to end up saving money with the changes, including the switch to LED lighting for the 1st sign.

The company bought the First National Bank Building last year. The previous owners paid $2,000 annually to light the sign and between $18,000 and $30,000 a year to maintain it, Madison Equities Vice President Scott Goltz said in a news release. The LED lights will not need much maintenance and will save about $600 a year in lighting costs, Goltz said.

Almost all commercial, industrial and office buildings — even newer spaces — could do energy-efficient projects that would result in overall cost savings, Klein said, and he hopes more companies make those changes.

“If we could put a dent into it, like Madison Equities has done … it’s a significant amount of energy consumption reduced,” he said.