The sad, forlorn Macy’s in downtown St. Paul has announced its pending closure, having reached the end of its 10 year agreement to stay open. Mayor Chris Coleman says that the closing presents “tremendous opportunity.”
The site is one of 4 downtown stops for the new Central Corridor light rail line. It’s also a very large, very square building in a city that rolls up the sidewalks and retreats to its neighborhoods and suburbs promptly at 5PM.
Downtown has a 21% office vacancy rate, and a big empty county jail on the river no one wants to redevelop. The optimism of the city in press conferences seems to be driven by the fact no one wants to walk out and say, “meh.”
So what to do with the space? Here are a few ideas:
- A giant, entertainment center in downtown St. Paul! Because downtown entertainment districts always work.
- Indoor dog park. It would be the ultimate amenity to lure downtown dwellers in the absence of useful things like full-service grocery stores and drug stores that stay open past 5.
- New site for the downtown license office, moved from the toxic and sad Sears up the hill. An added benefit to the city in moving it down to Macy’s would be the comparatively more limited parking, allowing the parking enforcement of downtown St. Paul a rich source of continuous revenue!
- Giant crater, after which it gets turned into a giant downtown vegetable garden. Hey, why not. When they tore down a strip mall near Phalen, they restored it to wetlands.
- Random merchandise mart, seasonally. This is what happens to empty suburban big boxes, ranging from cheesy Christmas marts and Halloween costume vendors, to furniture closeout centers (2 weeks only!) and leather-goods sale sites.
- Rent to a growing evangelical megachurch. This model has worked elsewhere, such as in my birthplace of Palatine, Illinois, where a giant blue warehouse is now a megachurch, complete with neon crucifix that can be seen from the highway. Reusing the old Science Museum/MBA charter school site as a Scientology site is working well, after all.
- Carp amusement park. The city has been pondering building an electric carp barrier near the Ford Dam; the DNR says it wouldn’t work. Why not route the carp to the Macy’s building and provide them with entertainment (and death) within the great cube?
- Charter school for little urban planners. Heck, make it a residential magnet school, and use the old Macy’s River Room as a cafeteria, and part of the building as a dorm! The little urban planners in training could go on fabulous field trips using the Central Corridor light rail. The graduates could go and create harmony and truth in urban environments without subsidy, forever and ever!
Sure, urban planners will probably say it can become a mixed-use site that leverages the nearby transit, with the city claiming it will help create a vibrant downtown after dark. But that’s boring.
What are your ideas for the site?