Ideas: Let’s Reuse St. Paul Macy’s!

Macy's St. Paul, via Mulad

Macy’s St. Paul, via Mulad

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.”

We’re sure.

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:

  1. A giant, entertainment center in downtown St. Paul! Because downtown entertainment districts always work.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?
  8. 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? is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

15 Responses to Ideas: Let’s Reuse St. Paul Macy’s!

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke January 3, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    Nice photo there. An honest depiction of the vibrancy of the building.

  2. Julie Kosbab January 3, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    It was convenient that Mike had something so apt.

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke January 3, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    I stil think my "Aquari-Cino" idea had some merit (aquarium + casino)


    New Vikings Stadium to replace the one currently being planned across town

    New Wild Stadium to replace the one a few blocks away

    Some sculpting / architectural appendages to make it look like an ACTUAL white elephant

    Year-round indoor Winter Carnival ice palace

    New branch of Cossetta's (without benefits, of course)

    Really really giant indoor trampoline / ball pit

    And the only idea that might actually happen:

    Huge parking ramp for cars

    • Julie Kosbab January 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

      I'm sticking with "carp entertainment district."

    • Peter January 3, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

      I think it already is primarily a huge parking ramp for cars; the retail component is merely tacked on ("7 indoor parking levels" according to the Buildings Consulting Group – Google satellite view shows that the site is largely a parking structure.

  4. David Levinson
    David Levinson January 4, 2013 at 1:22 am #

    I think we need a Plane-quarium. In the realm of urban feature-itis, the Twin Cities sorely lacks both a Planetarium and an Aquarium. The site is walking distance to both Children's Museum and the Science Museum, and this would make a nice cluster (through in a new location for the Bell Museum as well) for school field trips, with peaking patterns (Saturday and Sunday) allowing it to share existing parking ramps.

    Sadly the Duluth Fresh Water Aquarium failed (really though, who wants to see brown fish). But a real sea-water aquarium, like the Mn Zoo but huger, with interesting tropical fish, could be a draw.

    • Julie January 4, 2013 at 3:09 am #

      The question I would have about an aquarium is not dissimilar to some of the construction issues that faced the Science Museum: is the underpinning sufficient to support that sort of plate lass and water? Very heavy, that stuff.

  5. Andrew January 4, 2013 at 4:39 am #

    Snark Level 9000!

  6. gml4 January 4, 2013 at 6:19 am #

    I think it would be a great place to store stuff. LOTS of stuff.

    Then when people abandon their stuff, we can make a TV show about people finding valuable items in it.

    Sounds like a money maker to me!

  7. Ian Bicking January 4, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    Maybe entertainment districts would work better if they were managed by entertaining people. Deep down I think the people/committees that set up this sort of development don't actually *like * entertainment experiences and so they create drab experiences that pay more attention to avoiding problems than being fun.

  8. minneapolisite January 6, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    Yeah, I don't typically think of old white suburban businessmen as the "fun" type. The space could be divided up into several small, affordable commercial spaces to attract indie retail and it is just a block away from an established commercial cluster on 7th. Of course, that would require some serious renovations…maybe the city of St Paul will subsidize it?

  9. David Greene January 7, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    Since putting up historical markers and commemorating significant events is all the rage these days, I suggest turning the store into a huge interactive memorial to the loss of downtown department stores.

  10. Tim Santiago January 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    How about "Second Fiddle" museum? Statues of Garfunkel and Oates greet you on your way in – A Nikola Tesla exhibit – A tribute to Vice Presidents… the possibilities are endless!!!


  1. Shed No Tears for the St Paul Macy’s | ezzyhome - January 6, 2013

    […] course adjustments” of the Macy’s corporation, St Paul will have to figure out what to do with this horrible building. It’s too bad. It’s unlikely to be used as a department store ever again; its unlikely […]

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