Downtown St. Paul makes way for more hotel rooms

The Park Square Court building at 400 Sibley St. in downtown St. Paul was completed in 1880. The Richardson Romanesque-style structure will open as a Marriott Tribute hotel in 2019. (Submitted photo: CoStar)
Built in 1920 as a hotel, the Lowry Apartments building is returning to its roots in a $20 million project undertaken by Madison Equities at 345 Wabasha St. in downtown St. Paul. (Submitted photo: CoStar)

Developer James Crockarell plans to spend $60 million to turn a 138-year-old brick-and-timber building in St. Paul into a Marriott Tribute hotel.

On the other side of downtown, Crockarell is converting apartments to hotel rooms in the 98-year-old Lowry Apartments building at 345 Wabasha St. The building is two blocks from the Treasure Island Center that sports the Wild’s practice rink on its roof.

Altogether, Crockarell will add 277 rooms to the market. While the downtown St. Paul market currently has 3,800 rooms, its 64 percent occupancy rate is at a level that typically signals to developers the market will support more.

The Park Square Court Building, at 400 Sibley St. in Lowertown, will become the 127-room Hotel Mears — a nod to its location across from Mears Park. Now used as an office building with ground-floor restaurants, the structure is two blocks from CHS Field, where the St. Paul Saints play baseball. The Richardson Romanesque-style building, once used as a warehouse, was completed in 1880.

Crockarell, owner of St. Paul-based Madison Equities, is known for upgrading older buildings in downtown St. Paul, including the First National Bank Building known for its brightly lit “1st” sign on the skyline.

“This is going to fill a need for a more upscale hotel,” Crockarell said of the Hotel Mears project.

The boutique hotel will open in Park Square Court by the end of 2019, Crockarell said.

The Lowry project, which doesn’t have a hotel flag yet, is underway. The $20 million, 150-room project is taking the complex back to its beginnings as a hotel, Crockarell said. So far, Madison has created 20 hotel rooms.

The Hotel Mears will be near about 4 million square feet of downtown office space, making it convenient for business and recreational travelers, he said.

Park Square is also two blocks north of the Union Station stop for the Green Line light rail transit route. The Lowry building is a couple blocks from the Green Line’s Central Station.

Madison Equities owns 15 buildings in Ramsey County, and Crockarell claims it is the county’s largest restaurant and building owner. The company operates two restaurants in Park Square Court, the Handsome Hog and the Public Kitchen + Bar.

“We think the restaurants will help the hotel, and the hotel will help the restaurants,” Crockarell said. “And we think all of it will help downtown St. Paul.”

Crockarell also expects the hotel to do a brisk business in hosting wedding receptions.

The Hotel Mears project is in its early days. Crockarell has not yet filed for building permits. He said construction is planned to begin in June.

A representative with Marriott’s full-service hotel group did not respond immediately on Tuesday to a request to comment on the Park Square project. Marriott became owner of the Tribute brand as part of a 2016 deal to acquire Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

The rooms at Hotel Mears will be built into the upper four floors of the five-story Park Square Court. The space in the 136,000-square-foot building opened up last year when the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency moved its offices to the newly renovated Treasure Island Center at 400 Wabasha St.

Amenities at the Hotel Mears will include a rooftop dining venue, an exercise facility and meeting rooms. The hotel lobby will be on the ground floor of the building.

Crockarell said he expects Park Square Court’s 19th century brick-and-timber look to be a draw for guests, in the same way similar construction has benefited the Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis’ North Loop since that hotel opened in 2016. The Hotel Mears will be St. Paul’s only hotel in that type of building.

“St. Paul doesn’t have any of the brick-and-timber hotels,” Crockarell said. “Most people like it.”

The St. Paul hotel market probably has capacity for more hotel rooms, said Steve Sherf, president of the Excelsior-based Hospitality Consulting Group. The submarket saw a 7 percent increase in the number of rooms booked in the past year, he said. The occupancy rate for St. Paul hotels is 64 percent.

“I think over time they can probably absorb that,” Sherf said Tuesday.

Downtown St. Paul has seen some recent new hotel openings. A 149-room Hyatt Place opened in late 2016 in the former U.S. Post Office tower at 180 Kellogg Blvd. E. Another recent entry into the downtown market is a 160-room Hampton Inn & Suites at 200 W. Seventh St. near the Xcel Energy Center, according to the Finance & Commerce Hotel Development and Sales Tracker.

A 100-room Residence Inn is under construction at 200 Grand Ave. that includes a 144-year-old fire house, Finance & Commerce has reported.

The Hotel Mears will be managed by Plano, Texas-based Aimbridge Hospitality, Crockarell said. The project architect is Tushie Montgomery of Richfield.

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