Downtown Alliance Offers Free Lease Options to Fill Vacant St. Paul Storefronts

Up to ten small companies seeking free, temporary leases in downtown St. Paul are wanted.

The St. Paul Downtown Alliance has engaged two real estate specialists to establish connections between building owners and company owners interested in “pop-up” lease agreements in an effort to breathe fresh life into downtown commercial corridors that have all but vanished during the epidemic.

Although utilities and tenant-provided insurance may be required, the initial leases, which last up to six months, are free of charge.

Approximately 10% of the 350 companies the Alliance tracks at the street and skyway level in downtown St. Paul, including merchants, restaurants, and service providers, have shuttered or departed their locations since early 2020, according to Alliance president Joe Spencer.

Really, he continued, “it’s about attempting to fill those otherwise empty spaces.”

In order to match small business owners with large building owners who have space to fill, the alliance, a collaboration between the city of St. Paul and downtown employers, has hired D’Angelos Svenkeson, principal with NEOO Partners, and Lee Krueger, former president and chief executive officer of the St. Paul Port Authority.

So far, two companies have agreed to lease skyways at Wells Fargo Place and Treasure Island Center, respectively: the designer store Ramadhan Designs and the think tank 2043 SBC. Both openings are anticipated for this month.

According to Krueger, president of Krueger Real Estate Advisors, “we first get landlords to agree to join, and then we complete an inventory so we know what we have.” The schedule calls for rentals of up to six months, but if you just have a one-week window, you may conduct a pop-up instead (project). If you think about it, the high school hockey tournament and the State Fair are both essentially four-day pop-up events.

According to Krueger, he expects that businesspeople would find the downtown building owners to be a suitable fit and sign long-term leases.

Pop-ups can have a significant impact, but the main objective is to do a proof of concept and get these firms started in an incubator where they can develop, according to Krueger.

Rammy Mohamed, a St. Paul native, said that Ramadhan Designs is her first brick-and-mortar store, despite the fact that, since 2015, she has consistently provided Muslim bridal dresses, evening gowns, and other clothing to Minnesota Fashion Week’s twice-yearly events. September will see her perform during New York Fashion Week. From the studio, I’ll be doing preparation work, Mohamed remarked. “My ambition is to create clothing manufacturing in Minnesota for Minnesotans.”

The American Rescue Plan Act provided $1 million in funding for the Downtown Alliance’s “Let’s Grow” campaign, while the Knight Foundation provided $1 million in matching money. The Downtown Alliance also received donations from its corporate members. The campaign included several art works, including Girl Friday’s 25-foot work outside the Securian Financial building and Amanda Lovelee and Emily Stover’s outdoor office space “Future of Futures” at the Osborn370 building at 370 Wabasha St.

The St. Paul Downtown Alliance was established in 2018 to aid with the formation of the St. Paul Downtown Improvement District, which became official in January 2021 and is partially funded by the Knight Foundation.

More than 300 performances and associated events were staged and promoted across downtown last year as part of the Alliance’s “Welcome Back St. Paul” campaign, which also sent out 12 street ambassadors to assist maintain streets’ cleanliness and safety. Twenty full-time members have been added to that street squad.

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