Clinton Blaiser

President and CEO of Halverson and Blaiser Group Ltd.

Real estate developers Clinton Blaiser and Richard Pakonen recognized that acquiring and renovating the historic Pioneer-Endicott buildings in St. Paul's Lowertown would be risky. However, they believed in the project's potential. They acquired the vacant, 100-year-old-plus buildings, and now with help from state and federal historic tax credits and tax increment financing, they are in full swing on a $46 million renovation into 234 upscale apartment units and commercial space.

"We've already rented almost 50 apartments and people have moved into about a dozen units," Blaiser says. "We'll deliver a couple more floors in 30 to 60 days … and just keep rolling them out." They're also working on leasing the commercial space. The project will be complete in early 2014.

This is one of Blaiser's most high-profile projects, and he has a long history in the real estate business. He started working for A&M Properties at age 15 during high school. There he learned maintenance from tradesmen while caretaking a 50-unit apartment building. During college, he worked as an apartment leasing agent, and after college worked at what is now Steven-Scott Management as an asset manager.

He incorporated his company – Bloomington-based Halvorson and Blaiser Group Ltd. — in 1992 when he bought his first three multifamily properties. He focused on turning around inner-city units in problem properties. Today, his company is a fee-based management firm with 2,000 multifamily housing units and select commercial properties. He also acquires real estate and began buying properties in partnership with Pakonen, principal of St. Paul-based Pak Properties, in 2000.

Q: How long have you been working on the Pioneer-Endicott buildings?

A: We acquired them two or three years ago. … The state historic tax credit program didn't exist when we bought them. Everyone thinks we're geniuses, but that didn't exist at the time. I'm sure our bankers thought we were nuts saying we wanted to buy a 300,000-square-foot-plus empty office building in downtown St. Paul.

Q: How complex is it renovating historic buildings?

A: It's complex, but we built a good team – two historic consulting firms, two sets of engineers, two sets of architects … to make sure we're dotting our i's and crossing our t's. But it's a gorgeous project."

Q: What will the commercial space include?

A: Restaurants, a bar, a spa, a wine store and we're very excited that the Minnesota Museum of American Art has space on the first floor. How cool is that to live above a museum?

Q: What does this type of project mean for Lowertown?

A: Lowertown is kind of like the new Uptown. It's a really cool neighborhood that's been growing. … We're seeing more residents, but now you're starting to see more bars and restaurants. People always say downtown St. Paul is quiet and sleepy. Go down there some weekend night or even weeknight and try getting a spot at [the] Bulldog [a Lowertown bar].

Liz Wolf is a freelance writer in Eagan. She can be reached at