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Macy’s closing will be challenge for St. Paul, but officials call it an ‘opportunity’

The five-story department store building takes up a full block of downtown real estate, but Mayor Chris Coleman says the city will be just fine.

It’s official. Macy’s will close its downsized department store in St. Paul this spring, leaving a huge empty building in the downtown core.

Only three of the building’s five floors have been open to the public in recent years, and store hours were cut last year, as the glory days of department stores have faded almost everywhere, and more so in downtown St. Paul.

The city made a deal with Macy’s 10 years ago: stay open through 2012 and you’ll get a forgivable $6.3 million loan to assist with asbestos abatement and some store improvements. 

Now 2012 is gone.

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You might think reusing an empty fortress-like building that takes up a full city block would prove a daunting task for city planners.

But the city’s official stance is that it’s an opportunity to modernize downtown, as light rail is set to begin running in 2014 and a new Saints minor league ballpark is in the planning stages.

With the sorry state of downtown retail, it was no surprise that Macy’s, formerly Dayton’s, would close. So it’s possible that city officials have been long planning for this scenario.

Mayor Chris Coleman, in a statement this morning, says they’re already thinking of reuses, and defends the city’s decision to offer the retail giant the deal with taxpayer money:

“In 2001, downtown Saint Paul was in the beginning stages of recovery after several years of decline, and losing a big-box store like Macy’s could have potentially jeopardized that recovery. But today the face of downtown has changed, and we stand on a firm foundation that includes the building of hundreds of new housing units, a Lund’s grocery store, the Lowertown regional ballpark, a revitalized Union Depot, and an almost completed Central Corridor light rail line. Downtown Saint Paul’s momentum and rebirth continues. And much like when the ballpark or light rail was in the infant stages of great redevelopment ideas, the Macy’s site provides the city with a tremendous opportunity to bring another part of our city into the 21st century.”

Matt Kramer, a former chief of staff for Gov. Tim Pawlenty chief of staff who’s now president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, echoed the “opportunity, not problem” line:

“We understand that large national retailers have been trending for years to the suburban mall model. And while we hate to see Macy’s leave Saint Paul, we are very optimistic about the quick redevelopment of this site given its prime real estate location.”

So does the city’s Planning and Economic Development Director, Cecile Bedor:

“We are confident that the development community will recognize the potential of this site, and we’re looking forward to working with Macy’s to ensure a quick and efficient sale and reuse.”

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