ST PAUL, Minn.-When the St. Paul Port Authority purchased the vacant Macy's department store building in early 2014, Monte Hilleman was assigned the task of tearing down a downtown icon.
"I figured out how to turn it into a hole in the ground, and that was a big ugly number," said Hilleman, the Port Authority's senior vice president of real estate development. They abruptly changed course.
Rather than ask the private sector to spend $13 million destroying Macy's, the Port Authority convinced the Minneapolis-based Hempel Cos. to become a majority owner and partner in its redevelopment.
Together, they courted a leading financial sponsor - the Prairie Island Indian Community - and major tenants, such as Tria Orthopedic and the Minnesota Wild.
They sold off part of the site for a two-level Walgreens, and expanded the adjoining parking ramp to 800 stalls. A covered, 1,200-seat ice rink now sits on the former roof, and is expected to draw more than 600,000 spectators annually.
"When this building is fully leased, this block is just going to hum," Hilleman said Tuesday, Jan. 16, as he stood in front of the Tria Rink, the Wild's rooftop practice facility at the new Treasure Island Center.
The rink, which recently opened to the public, offers open skating from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, at $4 per skater. Skate rentals are an additional $3.
Hamline University men's hockey team was scheduled to skate against St. John's University on Tuesday evening. Gentry Academy, a private school based in Vadnais Heights, has rented ice time Wednesday night.
Additional open skating times will be posted at TriaRink.com, though schedules are still being finalized, and much depends upon the Wild's availability.
The Wild are expected to begin their practice sessions once their basement locker and exercise rooms are ready "in a matter of a few weeks," said Jamie Spencer, an executive vice president with the Wild.
Developers, small-business owners and a long list of public officials are hopeful that the six-story building's painstaking evolution to a glassy commercial hub will trickle outward, drawing new tenants and employers to surrounding properties, several of which are vacant or have low tenancy rates.
There are positive signs: The city reopened the long-shuttered Palace Theatre, an affordable-housing developer is at work on the former Pioneer Press building at 345 Cedar St., and office tenant interest in the Osborn 370 - the former Ecolab Tower - has been strong. Even the Minnesota Children's Museum has improved its street presence.
Given its central location along a full block of Wabasha and Cedar streets, the vacant department store building was seen as the missing link between the picturesque Rice Park area and the increasingly popular Lowertown neighborhood. The departure of Macy's in March 2013 worried the business and economic-development community at all levels.
"This thing was a large void for a long time - too long," said Jim Stolpestad, chairman of Exeter Realty Co., which recently redeveloped a Kellogg Boulevard post office tower into the Custom House luxury apartments.
"This is the type of project that requires all hands on deck - 539,000 square feet in the center of St. Paul," said Eric Larson, general counsel for the Port Authority. "The domino effect that it's going to have in terms of creating a vibrant center that cascades out, I don't think people understand how significant that's going to be in terms of funneling the positive energy."
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and a number of economic-development officials gathered Tuesday for the official ribbon-cutting for Treasure Island Center, which is 95 percent leased.
Several tenants are expected to complete mechanical and electrical work within the next six months, including a new Tim Hortons doughnut shop and a Cancun Billy's restaurant that could begin serving customers in April or May.
With a capacity of 140 to 150 customers, Stacked Deck Brewing expects to open its four large bay doors onto Cedar Street around June. Treasure Island Center offers a skyway connection to Wells Fargo Tower.
"The new energy it's going to bring to the central core will be highly impactful to the surrounding buildings and the downtown area as a whole," said Joe Spartz, president of the Greater St. Paul Building Owners and Managers Association.
City council member Dan Bostrom, who sits on the board of the Port Authority, recalled working as the manager of the carpet department at the Emporium department store on Robert Street in the early 1960s, when word arrived that a Dayton's department store would soon open on Wabasha.
Given the new competition, his co-workers figured it was the end of retail downtown.
"In a way, they were right," Bostrom said.
The Dayton's, which opened in 1963, later became Marshall Fields and then Macy's.
"I'm glad they were able to figure out a way to reuse the building," Bostrom said. "They built a very substantial building from the beginning, almost to industrial standards."
The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service