Ward 6 co-owner & Historic St. Paul team up for renovations on 131-year-old building

The building at 208 Bates Ave. has been vacant since 2002. Ward 6 restaurant co-owner Eric Foster is buying the building for $1 and partnering with the nonprofit Historic St. Paul to renovate it.

The estimated cost of the renovations is $952,407 and will include the creation of a shared garden.

The building, constructed in 1885, is in the Dayton’s Bluff Historic District. It will be restored to match the working-class history of the neighborhood.

The first floor will be designed as a mixed-use, work space for tenants to interact with the neighborhood, similar to an artist loft set-up.

The second floor will have two, 2-bedroom apartments.

Dayton’s Bluff eyesore to be restored

When driving by the 208 Bates Ave. property, one may pass it off as hopeless. 

But Ward 6 restaurant co-owner Eric Foster and Historic St. Paul executive director Carol Carey see an older, two-story building with character and potential.

Foster and Historic St. Paul are partnering to bring life back to the structure, which has been vacant since April 2002. The St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) acquired the building through eminent domain in October 2005.

Carey has experience renovating historic buildings in the neighborhood. She was involved with the renovation of Swede Hollow Cafe and the Stutzman building along East Seventh Street.

During the time that St. Paul owned 208 Bates Ave., the HRA pursued multiple redevelopment proposals, but none were successful.

Then 208 Bates Ave. was given a final chance earlier this spring when it was included in the Dayton’s Bluff Vacant Home Tour.

That’s when Foster and his daughter saw the 131-year-old building for the first time. Historic St. Paul reached out to Foster at about that same time to see if he had any interest in the commercial buildings on the tour. 

He said, “208 Bates kind of stood out to me at that time as a really interesting building.”

Foster and his family live in the Dayton’s Bluff area, just a few blocks from 208 Bates Ave.

Carey said it seemed natural to reach out to Foster and his family because of their commitment to the neighborhood and because of their success with Ward 6 restaurant.

“The first impression of it when you look at it is that it’s really ugly and in horrible shape, but if you look closer you can see some of the architectural details and things that are kind of waiting to be brought back out,” Foster said. 


The cost of saving old buildings

Foster and the nonprofit Historic St. Paul will purchase the building from the city for $1. The city will pay them a value-gap subsidy of $600,000 for the renovations of the building, which will come from Invest St. Paul Initiative and Community Development Block Grant funds. 

The total cost of the renovations is estimated at $952,407, far exceeding the predicted value of the building after renovations, hence why the city is providing the subsidy. As a part of the $600,000 subsidy, the apartments will be established as low-income housing for a minimum of 15 years.

Foster said that it is important for the neighborhood to make available high-quality housing to low-income residents already established on the East Side. 

“The other side I am really interested in is ... how we can have development in a way that is a positive for the neighborhood, but doesn’t result in gentrification and displacement of people that are in the neighborhood,” Foster said.

He said taking the vacant building and making it livable again is one way to do that.


A symbol of the working class

208 Bates Ave., which is known locally as the Schacht Building, was constructed in 1885 as a storefront with apartments upstairs.

Foster explained that the building is classified by the Dayton’s Bluff Historic District as a pivotal building, meaning it is important to the neighborhood because of its history and its architecture.

“They [the buildings] represent the stories and heritage of this working-class neighborhood,” said Carey, adding that it was very common for business owners to live and work in the same building a century ago. 

Carey added that the building is located in what had been a commercial district years ago, when Hudson Road was the main road to Wisconsin before the creation of Interstate 94. 

Foster and Carey plan to restore the building back to a similar mixed-use layout. Their current plan is to construct two, single-bedroom units on the first floor, that will also act as a type of live-work space, similar to an artist loft set-up. 

On the upper level they will construct two, 2-bedroom units.

“Like the impact Ward 6 had in its own way on Payne Avenue and the Stutzman building had to our neighborhood at the time, we are really thinking, visually, that these buildings on Bates Avenue will have a similar impact on that part of the neighborhood,” said Carey.

They decided to restore the building to a mixed-use format because they are finding that people want more commercial uses near their homes for a more walkable community. 

“They don’t want to get into a car to drive everywhere for everything they need,” Carey said.

Both Carey and Foster said the building will have to be gutted because of the condition of the building and because it was divided and chopped up into apartment units so much over the years.

“The building has been a victim of a multitude of bad decisions and has been neglected for years,” Carey said.

While the building’s brick exterior will be carefully restored to its 1880s appearance, the apartment units will have a contemporary look and amenities.

As for a timeline, Foster and Carey said it could vary greatly, as it depends on how quickly their construction plans are approved by the city and if there any surprises they find in the building along the way. Foster said he is hoping to see the building ready for tenants in six months.

Referring to the vacant home tour this spring, Carey said this property, along with the other five nearby properties that were on that tour, will help bring investment and interest into the community.

“I think it’s really going to be a game-changer for that part of the neighborhood,” Carey said.


Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.


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