Wabash Avenue meat-packing plant’s transformation hits snag

Editor’s note: The Bugle had just gone to print when we learned that the proposed plan to turn the former Wabash Avenue meat-packing plant into a mixed-housing complex has met some opposition. American Engineering and Testing (AET), which owns property at 567 Cleveland Ave. and at 2108 W. University Ave., has filed an objection to the Planning Commission’s approval of the housing project. According to reports from the Pioneer Press, AET is planning to relocate field and drilling services to the Cleveland Avenue property, which sits just across the railroad tracks to the north of the Wabash Avenue site.

 

By Bill Lindeke

Change might be coming to a long abandoned meat-packing plant in the West Midway.

The massive brick complex on Wabash Avenue, on the block between University Avenue and I-94 and between Vandalia Street and Prior Avenue, has been vacant for nearly 40 years. During that time, sellers have been searching for alternative industrial uses for the historic structure. Now, a development proposal has emerged to restore the property and use it in an unexpected way: for housing.

The housing project might signal a change in direction for the long-slumping industrial block, as it transitions to a more dynamic mix of uses.

Developers Rich Pakonen and Clint Blaiser have proposed using a mix of private financing and historical preservation tax credits to renovate the century-old industrial complex and re-use it for some 64 apartments. The proposal would require a conditional-use permit from the city to change the industrial zoning that currently exists on the property.

The complexity of the former packing plant buildings poses challenges for the project. For example, according to Blaiser, there are more than two dozen separate rooftops in the complex, and all of them require replacement. Meanwhile, the oldest parts of the sprawling building date to the 19th century. It’s difficult to put a precise date on the structure because it was constantly being expanded during the boom years of St. Paul’s industrial growth. Since the buildings were shuttered in the late 1970s, they have not been fully maintained and would require a lot of investment. But that’s all about to change if the new proposal for converting the 1.6-acre site from (I-2) industrial zoning into housing is approved. The change of use for the long industrial area comes at a time when the south St. Anthony Park and West Midway neighborhoods are seeing a lot of interest from developers. In the old King Coil mattress factory across the street, for example, a large mixeduse complex that includes the St. Paul Neighborhood Network TV studio and Lake Monster Brewery is now thriving along Wabash. That project, does not have residential uses, however.

The new proposal is slated to be at least 90 percent residential with a small amount of commercial space added to the complex.

The proposal has received letters of support from both the Midway Chamber of Commerce, which wrote that the plan “will bring the site back to life [and] connect with the community,” and the St. Paul Port Authority, which often safeguards industrial land within city boundaries. In addition, the District 12 St. Anthony Park Community Council voted to support the project, Wabash Avenue from 1 with the caveat that the council wants to see the final plans increase commercial use on the ground floor and improve pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure along nearby streets.

The proposal passed the city of St. Paul Planning Commission in February, along with a proposed condition that sidewalks and safe bike infrastructure be added to Wabash Avenue. The next step is for it to go before the St. Paul City Council for approval sometime in the next month. If approved, the project could break ground in early summer.

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