A structure known as the “keg house” on the Schmidt Brewery campus in St. Paul will be renovated into a year-round indoor farmers market, restaurant and gathering space, a missing component on the Twin Cities food scene.
Craig Cohen — a landlord familiar to shop owners along St. Paul’s burgeoning W. 7th Street commercial strip — purchased the site in October for $550,000. Since then, he secured several cleanup grants and applied for federal and state historic tax credits for the adaptive reuse project. Cleanup is expected to begin in the next few months, turning the derelict building into a destination venue that would open by next summer.
The low-slung warehouse is immediately adjacent to the nine-floor Schmidt Brewery structure, recently transformed by Plymouth-based developer Dominium from abandoned industrial space to artist lofts. Sites in Minneapolis, including the downtown Post Office, have been kicked around for a similar market concept. But Cohen has the property deed in hand and active contracts with architects, lawyers, leasing agents and consultants.
“Some people buy property and sit on it. But we’ve got a lot of cash in this project already, and it cannot be a hope and a prayer,” he said.
Cohen, who lives in the neighborhood and has played an active role in the rapidly gentrifying shopping and dining district, has held this vision for at least eight years. The timing, and economy, wasn’t right until now.
“It’s pretty exciting to see,” said Patrick Ostrom, development associate for Dominium. He said it decided to rehab the brewery into residences because of the prospect for other businesses on the site. “That’s one of the reasons we selected the location and figured it was an up and coming location in St. Paul, and it is proving to be that.”
Riding the energy of Dominium’s project, Cohen applied for and was given two cleanup grants this year. In January he secured a Metropolitan Council brownfield grant for $24,300, and this month another $110,478 from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Cohen has hired a heavyweight in the Twin Cities’ retail brokerage world, DTZ’s Andrea Christenson, to market the property. “This is one of the coolest buildings, in terms of pure physicality, that I have ever worked on,” Christenson said.
Last week, they released the first renderings of the space and are in talks with local investors as they seek to fund the $7 million project.
The master plan includes 30,000 square feet of retail space, ideally including two anchor restaurants. Permanent stalls will line the interior periphery, as will a mezzanine above the main floor. There will be smaller farmers market kiosks in the center court beneath skylights.
Christenson and Cohen are going to be picky with their tenant mix for the space, which is being branded as the Keg+Case Market because the building is believed to have been used at times to house kegs for the brewery.
They are looking for all local vendors, including some unusual concepts such as an exotic or wild-game butcher.
The restaurants will be key, Christenson said. “People won’t drive here for tomatoes,” she said, but they will drive for a one-of-a-kind restaurant.
And while the concept is original to the Twin Cities, it is drawing inspiration from a smattering of indoor markets across the country. Many people are familiar with San Francisco’s Ferry Building or Seattle’s Pike Place Market, but smaller U.S. cities have seen success with their own versions.
Columbus has the North Market, Milwaukee has the Milwaukee Public Market and Denver has the Source, an indoor market with local bakers, brewers, coffee roasters and two restaurants.
Artisanal products and hip restaurants may offer some year-round stability to Cohen’s project, but his focus on local growers sets it apart from the Midtown Global Market or even many of the examples in other cities. While the summer market would be the most robust, spilling outside on the Keg+Case Market’s lawn and patio, the vision is for year-round food products.
Kirsten Bansen Weigle, president of the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association, said the state struggles with a short growing season, impaired by the climate. But growers are full of ideas for specialty products that could be sold year-round.
She added that one challenge in making farmers markets a routine part of consumers’ lives is the limited days and hours.
“And in this culture where people are used to buying their groceries at midnight, adding a more permanent market sounds like a great opportunity,” Bansen Weigle said. “It’s partially a rebuilding of the agriculture infrastructure at a community, neighborhood or town scale.”