Empty downtown St. Paul river bluff buildings tumbling down in 2015

The old West Publishing buildings and the former river bluff county jail — both empty and owned by Ramsey County — will be demolished next year to make way for new development on the prime downtown St. Paul riverfront.

The Ramsey County Board has approved an $11.5 million demolition budget, so work could start next summer.

The buildings sit atop the Mississippi River bluffs and offer panoramic river views as well as a location in the heart of downtown. West Publishing cobbled together the set of buildings over the years, but moved out of downtown in 1992 when city officials wouldn’t allow upward expansion of the buildings to accommodate the company’s growth.

When the company, now part of Thomson-Reuters, relocated to Eagan, Ramsey County took over the buildings for office use, but all employees have long since moved out.

The connecting jail, just east of the West buildings, was built in 1979 on the river bluff and offered inmates some of the finest views in the city. It was closed when a new jail was built east of downtown in 2003.

County commissioners have been trying to sell the buildings for years, but their odd layout and design made them largely unattractive to buyers.

Although there are no buyers lined up for the site, the county says a study indicates that the “site will accommodate upwards of $150,000,000 in private development which would yield about $7 million in annual tax revenues. About $1.9 million of that would be collected by Ramsey County.”

The property has produced no tax revenue since the West move.

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