Downtown North St. Paul apartment-cafe combo to become a reality

Engineers with Westwood Professional Services surveyed the 1.9-acre site of a planned mixed-use building in downtown North St. Paul July 31. The area is located at the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue East and Margaret Street North. (Amy Felegy/Review)

Clay Rivera cuts a customer’s hair at the new Clay’s Barber Shop, which used to be located across the street. “My daughter is an interior designer. I think she got it from me,” Rivera joked, noting he designed the new space himself. (Amy Felegy photos/Review)

The mixed-use building at 2520 Seventh Avenue East and two houses on Fifth Avenue East will be demolished and replaced with a newly-approved apartment complex and eatery.

Community members share mixed feelings


“The old City Hall site is a go.”

City Manager Scott Duddeck, quoted above, was referring to the apartment and eatery complex plan in downtown North St. Paul that city council members voted July 30 to move forward with. Construction off the three-story, mixed-use building is set to begin this fall.

Its 87 market-rate apartments will sit at the southwest corner of Margaret Street North and Seventh Avenue East, a place some remember as where City Hall used to be. The 1.9-acre site will also include a 3,000-square-foot restaurant space. It’s expected to be complete by the end of 2020. 

The project will be funded in part by tax increment financing, meaning new property taxes generated by the development will go back into the site through the years to cover costs. Council member Jan Walczak said the exact cost is likely to change as plans become reality; the financing could run for as long as 25 years, putting millions of dollars back into the development.

Tom Sonnek, the only council member to vote against the site plan approval, said he’s leery of the TIF district strategy. During a public hearing on the financing that night no residents commented.

“I want to make sure that we’re all going into this with our eyes wide open,” he said, before thanking the council for giving him the “luxury to vote against this out of principle.”

Sonnek said the development will be a positive downtown addition and could bring revenue to the city. But while 2020 property taxes will not increase to fund the site, North St. Paul residents will still indirectly pay for the project, he said. 

More people moving into the city increases demand for services like emergency responders, water and sewer. In short, he said taxes won’t go up a million dollars a year for North St. Paul residents, though people will likely see gradual fee increases throughout the course of the financing. But he said he does feel his hands are tied because if cities don’t agree to a TIF plan, developers could easily walk away. He doesn’t blame anyone for this and said it’s just the way the system works.

Mayor Terry Furlong agreed, but said a TIF plan is a valid tool for bringing business into the suburb.

Others are all smiles about the new building and its accompanying features. Council member Candy Petersen said it will be good news for downtown North St. Paul.

“It’s just an awesome, amazing building,” she said at the council meeting. “It’s really going to be a great asset in our town.”

“We’re excited,” Furlong said at the meeting. 


Making room

The project will remove two homes, a multi-unit rental building and a dentist’s office — James G. Koller Family Dentistry will relocate to the nearby medical center on Centennial Drive in October.

“We have mixed emotions, saying goodbye to this 130-year-old building, but we’re excited about new opportunities in the new space,” said Koller.

The impending development has already moved a barber shop.

Clay’s Barber Shop reopened right across from its old location. The two homes set to be torn down are located on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue East and Margaret Street North.

Barber shop owner Clay Rivera packed up and moved across Seventh Avenue East to his new building in late July. 

He said he found out about the development plans in May through a newsletter. He called the building’s project manager, who confirmed the coming move. At first, the report rattled him.

“In the town there’s not very many spaces so, you know, I’m panicking,” Rivera said of his thoughts at the time. “I’m like, ‘Where am I going to go? If I do go, I’m going to lose half of my customers.’”

Before landing in his new location, Rivera had his customers put their contact information in a book so he could mail out the barber shop’s new address. But with his new spot being just across the street, Rivera said he didn’t need the book — a simple sign on the window saying he moved will do. 

Rivera said although he didn’t want to move, his only other option would have been retirement, but after 43 years of cutting hair he’s not ready to put down his scissors. He said city officials helped him with the move and were “very nice” to him. 

After several weeks in his new spot, Rivera said he’s grateful he found a vacancy and he’s glad to have a space so close to his old shop. After overhauling the space with new flooring, plumbing, lighting and paint, it’s starting to feel like home.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better place,” he said. “I mean, it’s like right across the street and I haven’t lost any customers.”

Some have been going to Clay’s Barber Shop for 15 years since it opened on East Seventh Avenue. With the influx of people from the new apartment complex, he said maybe he’ll end up with even more patrons.

“I’m not upset about it because I think this town needs something and it’s great to see them finally do something,” Rivera said.


The nitty-gritty

The T-shaped building will have 139 parking spaces — 52 on the surface and 87 underground. Four additional spots will be available for commercial parking, something Walczak brought up as a concern at the July 30 meeting. 

Planning and project manager Erin Perdu, from design and consulting firm WSB, said the proposed number of parking spots surpasses regulations by a handful of spaces. Plus, she said, the public lot adjacent to the site, and street parking on Seventh Avenue East, should mitigate vehicle congestion.

Several council members suggested adding street parking to the current curb where a  bench area now sits, allowing for a few more spots.

As for the portion of the site not spoken-for by the complex or parking lot, Perdu said there is plenty of green space planned. She said mixed-use development rules require 5% of the site to be usable open space. This site will boast 40%, she said, which includes a second-floor rooftop terrace. 

The total landscaped area will take up 33% of the green space, which is “far in excess” of the 2% landscape requirement, Perdu said. Trees will also be added to the site.

At the meeting, Furlong asked where trash and recycling bins will be housed. Perdu said developers are planning on keeping dumpsters in the underground parking area.

Occupants of the blue mixed-use building that will be torn down to make way for the new building, where Clay’s Barber Shop used to be, said they’ve dealt with water and flooding issues for years, according to project coordinators. 

Developers said rooftop and parking lot vaults will collect rainfall to minimize those problems. A formal application for the stormwater plan was to be sent to the watershed district the day after the meeting.


Neighborhood reaction

Dave Nelson has lived one block away from the soon-to-be construction site for more than 40 years. He and other neighbors said they have tried to make their concerns clear at council meetings. Nelson’s biggest worry?

“It’s the height,” he said, referring to the planned three-story structure. “Everybody around here says they want the hometown flavor. What are you doing with the hometown flavor when you’re building a three-story building in a two-story town?”

Nelson also said he worries about noise coming from the complex, something he and his neighbors said they’ve dealt with for years from nearby bars.

“I have no problem playing their music and all that, but they’ve got to have respect for the people who live here,” Nelson said. “That’s all I’m asking for.”


Next steps

The site’s residential areas will need to be rezoned into a downtown, mixed-use space before construction can begin. The alley behind the lot will be privatized.

An architectural design board partnering with the project said it will need more detailed plans when it comes to specific building materials. Other than that, Perdu said the board was complimentary of the design.

Winkels said three potential eateries are looking into signing the restaurant space, which would be part of the apartment complex and open to the public.

A name for the complex is still in the works. Project developers say they will introduce more detailed agreements to the city in late August. 

Two other sites in North St. Paul are gearing up for similar projects. One is a proposed convenience store, self-storage facility and commercial space on the north end of the old Anchor Block site just south of the Gateway State Trail. 

The other is a proposed 140-unit apartment building across the street from the current City Hall.


–Amy Felegy can be reached at or 651-748-7815.

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