Seritage pushes at least eight buildings at vacant St. Paul Sears site

When renowned architect Cass Gilbert designed the Minnesota State Capitol building, he made clear that nothing in the area around it should lurch over the state’s political center. Property owners have unveiled plans for a mostly-residential, five-to-seven story redevelopment of the long-vacant Sears Department Store mall between Rice and Marion streets. Officials entrusted with executing […]

Seritage pushes at least eight buildings at vacant St. Paul Sears site

When renowned architect Cass Gilbert designed the Minnesota State Capitol building, he made clear that nothing in the area around it should lurch over the state’s political center. Property owners have unveiled plans for a mostly-residential, five-to-seven story redevelopment of the long-vacant Sears Department Store mall between Rice and Marion streets.

Officials entrusted with executing Gilbert’s vision say they’re pleased concept plans call for exactly that.

“They came in with a vision that really does attempt to honor the framework that the community laid out,” said Peter Musty, principal planner and zoning administrator with the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board. “It’s exciting, because it’s going to restore a part of the St. Paul grid that we lost before the interstate and before urban renewal. It really does comply with our 2040 Comp Plan.”

The “they” in question is Seritage Growth Properties, a publicly-traded real estate investment trust that retains ownership over some 10 or more Sears sites around the country primed for redevelopment.

‘OWNER AND DEVELOPER’

Seritage was formed in 2015 to help determine the fate of Sears stores as they began to shutter by the hundreds nationwide. Seritage, which is now wholly independent from Sears, officially acquired the early 1960s-era St. Paul property in or around 2018. The store closed forever in Jan. 2019.

“They’re the owner and developer,” Musty said.

Seritage, which is still in the midst of design, is working with the St. Paul office of real estate consultants Kimley-Horn and New York-based S9 Architecture to effectively cut up and redraw the Sears site, which spans 18 acres. Community engagement is underway, with the goal of eventually winning permitting approval from the CAAPB Board and a re-platting of the street grid by the city of St. Paul.

The vision, so far, calls for five-to-seven stories of mostly market-rate housing, presumably apartments, spanning 600 to 800 housing units in eight or nine buildings. Those buildings will be built in phases by 2030 or so and situated around a central public green located roughly where the Sears department store building is now. Retail, commercial and office uses would be situated along the site’s eastern edges at Rice Street, effectively extending the Rice Street business corridor along a future Bus Rapid Transit line.

Parking would be situated beneath the structures and in a parking facility, and ride-sharing and other alternatives would limit the number of vehicular parking stalls needed on site. At least two or three new street blocks would be built across the site, re-opening it to pedestrians and vehicles.

Construction could be just a year or two away. “There will be several iterations of that design moving forward as it gets more and more refined, along with the environmental review that has to take place,” said Paul Mandell, outgoing executive secretary of the CAAPB Board, which has devoted a webpage to the planning process.

GAUGING PUBLIC FEEDBACK

Jon Fure, executive director of the Capitol River Council, a downtown neighborhood association, said he plans to organize a community meeting with the Frogtown Neighborhood Association to gauge public feedback.

Representatives of Seritage have stopped by CAAPB Board meetings for years to take note of public priorities for the site, and officials with the board say they’re happy to see the new vision complies with height restrictions and other zoning controls within the 60-block area they administer around the State Capitol building.

“The shoulders of the Capitol building without the Capitol dome really set the height for most of the Capitol area,” Musty said. “This goes back to Cass Gilbert’s vision. Nothing would rise above the rotunda.”