Major development to focus on mixed-use, creative space

The Creative Enterprise Zone might be looking at a new center of activity soon. A major project to renovate the multi-structure complex at 550 Vandalia Street has the green light from the City of St. Paul and developers are looking to turn it into an innovative mixed-use space with a creative focus.

“We would like to get a real buzz with this building that is more creative,” said Dave Clark, chief executive of WCL Associates, Inc.

The building is already home to a number of creative enterprises, which Clark says they hope to keep as tenants and will continue to work with through the development process. 

Some of the current tenants include Holzman Wood Designs, which makes custom furniture, the Center for Mind-Body Oneness Yoga Studio, and WillCall Studio and Gallery. Clark says they hope to increase the number of tenants to between 300 and 400.  

The 5.5-acre 205,000-square-foot property has fallen into disrepair over the last 30 years. “It’s almost more of an archaeological project than a renovation,” Clark joked.

The relative distress of the building has allowed for low rent for its current occupants. Developers hope to preserve affordable rent by renovating most of the building with an eye toward creative rather than office or residential space—keeping the overall renovation costs down. 

The interior of the building has an historical industrial feel with large concrete columns and unique original masonry.  

“We decided to leave a lot of the character of the building there…it’s going to be more of an industrial building than an office building. That way the rents are going to be significantly lower,” Clark said.

A large, shared event space is also part of the plans, along with a cultivated courtyard.  The hope is that unique shareable spaces will attract people to the area and foster collaborative and creative activity.

“We really want people who will actually live around this area, and work in this area producing things,” Clark said.

One of the defining features of the property is a water tower that rises above the complex. This will become a main focal point with the main entrance plaza curling around it. 

With the opening of the light rail line on University Avenue, many are concerned that a surge in development will raise rent prices and push out many of the creative enterprises that currently call this area home. 

Developments like the one at 550 Vandalia are a reassuring sign that preserving the creative ethos of this area is both possible and a priority worth pursuing. 

Developer Peter Remes bought the nine buildings at 550 to 558 Vandalia for $3.33 million in 2012, according to Finance & Commerce.

Julie James