Carleton Lofts project gets underway on University Ave.

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Transformation of the former Johnson Brothers Liquor Company warehouses into the Carleton Lofts is in full swing. The first residents should be ready to move into 169 new loft apartments at University Ave. and Carleton St. in spring 2007. Eventually the south St. Anthony Park site will include more than 400 apartments. City officials see the Carleton Lofts as a key part of turning the University-Raymond area into a vibrant commercial-residential neighborhood. Ward 4 Council Member Jay Benanav said the housing, which is just blocks east of the new Emerald Garden and Berry Place neighborhoods, will add to the area’s appeal for new residents.

“We’re very excited about the development and we’re on track for the first occupants to start moving in in late spring 2007,” said Brad Johnson, chief development officer for University Carleton Development. “It’ll be great to see this area turn into an urban village.”

Johnson said the rental lofts will provide a unique opportunity for those who want to try warehouse loft living without making a larger investment in a loft condominium.

“I don’t know of any other converted warehouses in the area that will have units available for rent,” he said. This will not only appeal to those in need of affordable housing, he added, it will also give prospective loft owners a chance to try lofts before buying one elsewhere.

The 6.22-acre site is bounded by Charles Ave. on the north, University Ave. on the south, Hampden Ave. on the east and Carleton St. on the west. The two square blocks include three brick warehouses that were built in the early 20th century and have “historic district” designation.

The development will make use of these warehouses, while newer additions will be torn down.

The University-Raymond Historic District, which the City Council established in February 2005, gives historic designation to 35 buildings along University Ave., including the three Johnson Brothers buildings. The district is in an area roughly bounded by Highway 280, Charles, Myrtle and Hampden.

The area is considered historic because of its status as a regional and national transportation center, and a key part of St. Paul’s industrial past.

For many years the area was a major rail center, as well as a site where much of the Twin Cities trucking industry began. It’s the first historic district created in St. Paul since 1992.

Because the former warehouses are in the University-Raymond historic district, building renovations required extensive review and approval from the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission. Johnson said that while historic designation created extra regulations for the project, he sees the historic status as a definite plus.

University Carleton Development, together with Dominium Development and Acquisition, a veteran Twin Cities apartment owner/developer, have worked together on the Carleton Lofts project.

The Johnson Brothers liquor distribution business operated out of the warehouses for more than 30 years.

The developers closed on the property at the end of 2005, Johnson said. In January demolition of nonhistoric structures, including the connections between the warehouses, got underway. That’s being followed by building renovations.

Before the development could get started, the Carleton Lofts faced a series of reviews and approvals at the local, state and federal levels. In spring 2005 the property was rezoned from light industrial use to traditional neighborhoods use. This zoning type allows for more dense, mixed-use development.

The St. Paul Planning Commission, which recommended approval of the rezoning, also granted approval for needed variances. The City Council, which gave final approval to the rezoning, also put the project in a tax increment financing (TIF) district. Other assistance came in the form of tax credits, including credits for the area’s historic designation status.

Eventually the two-block development will hold about 420 dwelling units. Of the first phase’s 169 units, 128 will be live-work lofts. Such lofts, with space where the apartment dweller can have an art studio or work space, are one of St. Paul’s new residential development concepts in neighborhoods outside of downtown.

The development team includes Johnson family members, as well as BKV Group Architects and Dominium Development and Acquisition. Brad Johnson is part of the second generation at Johnson Brothers.

Brothers Lynn and Mitchell Johnson founded the liquor distribution firm. Johnson said family members like the idea of reusing and redeveloping buildings that have been part of their family business for decades.

In the first phase of the project, 2341 University Ave. will have its historic front restored and a new elevator and stairway core built to the north. This building will be remodeled into loft-style apartments targeted toward area workers.

The buildings at 2285 and 2295 University Ave. will also have their fronts restored. A new addition will connect these buildings and provide community space. These buildings will be remodeled into loft-style live-work apartments.

In the project’s second phase, new multifamily housing will be built in the open lot between 2295 and 2341 University Ave. These units will have under-ground parking, as well as 160 parking spaces in a lot on Charles Ave.

The second phase will also include a new multifamily building at the corner of Hampden and University. That building might also include commercial or retail space. Construction there will mean demolishing a bar that has been closed for several years. This phase will result in the creation of 184 new housing units.

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