Pan-Asian center to be located in renovated Hamm’s Brewery on St. Paul’s East Side.
Congratulatory speeches by politicians and project supporters were on the agenda recently for the first community planning meeting of the Asian Pacific Cultural Center (APCC). In February, the pan-Asian center secured a home when its management made a deal with the city of St. Paul to renovate the closed Hamm’s Brewery building on St. Paul’s East Side.
The meeting, held at Metropolitan State University’s Great Hall in St. Paul, drew Asian American community leaders from around the Twin Cities, East Side residents, and a contingent of former brewery employees.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, named the honorary chair of the APCC’s Capital Campaign Committee, praised the persistence of the APCC over its nine-year history of planning and fundraising for the center, and its choice of the historic brewery as its location. In the past, the East Side was a thriving industrial area that provided jobs to many in St. Paul, Coleman said, “And as things waned, jobs left and the brewery closed, we were looking for something to revitalize the East Side …and to be able to celebrate the Asian Pacific culture in this building is a great cornerstone or capstone of other efforts across the city …Congratulations for this effort, and keep on fighting the good fight.”
Becoming a part of history
APCC’s new home is location of one of city’s original industries
The Hamm’s Brewery complex, the future home of the Asian Pacific Cultural Center (APCC) has a history which ties in with the development of early St. Paul and a subgroup of the early industrialists dubbed “the beer barons.”
Because Minnesota was a big grain-producing state with a large number of German immigrants (and perhaps because the winters are long) beer production became an early and important industry of St. Paul. For more than 130 years, the scent of yeast and hops in the early morning air was the signature perfume of St. Paul’s East Side.
The brewery was originally built by Andrew Keller in the early 1860s, and German immigrant Theodore Hamm acquired it in 1865 when Keller defaulted on a loan Hamm had made to him. Under Hamm’s management, the brewery steadily grew. It was incorporated in 1896, and remained in Hamm family ownership for 100 years.
In 1965, with Hamm’s celebrating its 100th year as a family-owned business, the brewery was the eighth largest in the nation, selling 3,800,000 barrels annually. A buyer for the brewery was sought by the heirs. Heublein, Inc. bought the brewery for $65 million. The building went through several buyers subsequent to this sale. The final buyer was Pabst Brewing Company, in 1983. During the same year, Pabst traded the plant to Stroh’s for a Stroh’s plant in Tampa, Florida. In the fall of 1997, the brewery closed down for good, never to produce beer again.
City Council President Kathy Lantry said she has believed in the project from the start, but because of its scope, which has increased to more than a $10 million renovation and retrofitting of the building, she was afraid it would not come true. “The Hamm’s Brewery is absolutely a landmark to the East Side. And …that we are thinking about an adaptive reuse of that incredible structure is really a testament to the vision of the APCC.”
Architects will be signed on this summer for the renovation project. The design will require some preservation of the historic look of the giant red brick structure, according to APCC executive director Naomi Chu. It will also include 20 offices for Asian Pacific community groups with an administrative center, an Asian American languages and resource library, a banquet facility for 500 with a kitchen, a theater, three studio spaces for dance and music group practice, 20 classrooms, five conference rooms, an art gallery, and possibly other features to be determined through the ongoing community meeting process.
The renovated facility, located on Minnehaha Avenue between Payne Avenue and Arcade St., at 58,240 square feet, will be the largest Asian American center of its kind in the nation.
Sen. Mee Moua (D – St. Paul) praised Lantry for her determination over many years to keep the project going despite several setbacks. “Even when it was not going to be placed in her ward, she was secretly working with us to make sure it had a place to go,” Moua said.
The APCC received significant support from both houses of the Legislature through numerous legislative sessions because there is recognition that the project is significant to all Minnesotans, not just those of Asian descent, Moua said. “Even when we went from one million to five million to 10 million dollars, the legislature has consistently supported this project, and never blinked when we said this project has grown in scope and size and we need your help to make it happen.”
Moua, the state’s (and nation’s) first Hmong American state senator, and a member of the Capital Campaign Committee, said that the APCC has already become a symbol for Asian American community building. “It is an institution that recognizes all the people who live in state of Minnesota, that will have statewide significance, regional significance, and national significance for what it stands for …The APCC in state of Minnesota, here on the East Side, truly is a living symbol of what it is to be a multicultural multiethnic community.”
In response to a question about whether the APCC will compete or detract from other Asian American organizations on the East Side, board Chair Satoru Asato said the center will be another resource for organizations to use, and that its tenants will in large part determine the activities that happen in the building. The center is expected to be financially self-supporting when it is complete and occupied, he said..
Chu added that the project will be broken into four stages. At the moment, the group is in the fundraising or capital campaign stage. “Then we will move into construction, then occupy the building with tenants, and then go into the programming phase.”
Focus groups on potential uses and designs for the building are being formed and will take place this summer, Chu said.
The building has been vacant since the Stroh’s Beer Company left. In creating the new Asian Pacific Cultural Center, four contiguous buildings will be retrofitted to create and operate a landmark pan-Asian cultural center. The APCC board has agreed not to change the facades on Minnehaha or on Swede Hollow Park, in order to preserve the historic look of the old building, according to APCC Executive Director Naomi Chu. An architect with experience renovating old, unique spaces will be sought for the job, Chu said.
One of the most unique features of the building is the two- to three-story tall tanks which are housed inside the brewhouse. Once these are removed, a tall indoor space will be opened up, which will be converted to a large indoor public space, possibly a gallery, Chu said.
The city’s Planning and Economic Development Department reported that the buildings are structurally and environmentally sound overall. Other buildings in the complex may eventually be converted to housing and commercial uses that would be compatible with the APCC.
Retrofitting an old industrial building will be more expensive than building a custom-designed space, Chu said. “We have made ourselves more dependent on government funding with this decision,” she said.
However, because the project serves a double goal of housing the APCC and revitalizing a key historic building, a strong partnership with the city, county, state and federal governments is expected as the project moves ahead.
For more information about the APCC plans, see the website at www.apccmn.org.