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Art museum seeks permanent home in Pioneer-Endicott

Brian Johnson//October 30, 2015

Art museum seeks permanent home in Pioneer-Endicott

Brian Johnson//October 30, 2015

The Minnesota Museum of American Art has long been housed in temporary spaces, but that could change soon as the museum hopes to set down deep roots within the historic Pioneer-Endicott complex in downtown St. Paul.

As part of an estimated $19 million project, the museum wants to build new galleries, classrooms, and community spaces within 40,000 square feet of first-floor space in the Pioneer-Endicott, a three-building complex at 141 E. Fourth St.

Jessari Sutton, the museum’s business and marketing manager, said in an email that the museum is in the “quiet phase” of a capital campaign for the project, which would create that elusive permanent home for the museum.

“Planning is underway to expand our current footprint and transform the first floor of these architecturally significant 19th century buildings into a bustling art museum, complete with classrooms, community spaces and galleries devoted to Minnesota art and craft,” Sutton wrote.

The museum currently has 3,700 square feet of gallery space on the building’s first floor, as well as first-floor business offices.

The museum declined to comment on the project’s fundraising campaign or how much private or public money has been raised so far for the expansion project.

In a request to the city of St. Paul for $1.5 million in TIF assistance, the museum said it anticipates starting construction in the third quarter of next year, but Sutton wrote that the project’s timeline is based on financing.

The museum’s project team includes Minneapolis-based VJAA Architects, Minneapolis-based Greiner Construction (construction manager), and St. Paul-based Sterns & Associates (project management).

Sutton added that the museum will seek out a “banking partner” and a New Market Tax Credit investor.

The St. Paul Port Authority is taking the lead on an $8 million 2016 state bonding request for the project, said Thomas Collins, the Port Authority’s senior vice president of marketing and communications.

The project faces plenty of competition for state bonding proceeds, but it has an influential supporter in St. Paul Rep. Alice Hausman, the DFL lead on the House Capital Investment Committee.

“It’s very clear what they want and what their vision is. I am quite excited about it,” Hausman said in an interview. “For the first time they will have a permanent location. This is the only art museum that St. Paul has, and it has been a nomad until now.”

Founded in 1894 as the St. Paul School of Fine Arts, the museum has been in a dozen different St. Paul locations, including the Jemne Building at 305 St. Peter St., the Landmark Center, and the Ramsey County Government Center.

The museum’s existing gallery at Pioneer-Endicott has been its “foot in the door at this location, allowing us to present programming until design and construction of the permanent facility,” according to the museum’s website.

The Pioneer Endicott includes the Pioneer Building, built in 1889, and the Cass Gilbert-designed Endicott, a two-building complex built in 1890. It boasts architectural features such as stained glass, marble floors and 16-story atrium.

Rich Pakonen, president of St. Paul-based PAK Properties, and Clint Blaiser of Bloomington-based Halverson and Blaiser Group, paid $1.1 million for the buildings in 2011.

A $42 million renovation converted the former offices into 234 apartments, along with retail, live-work spaces, and the museum.

The apartments were completed late last year. Apartment occupancy has been at about 97 percent “plus or minus,” Pakonen said.

The museum’s expansion has long been expected.

“They are dramatically increasing the size of their space, and that has been anticipated,” Pakonen said. “We have been planning this for a long time.  They are a fantastic customer and an important customer for us.

“Imagine living above a museum,” he added.

Joe Spencer, the city’s director of arts and culture, said the museum is one of Minnesota’s oldest and longest-standing arts organizations, and is a “really important institution with an incredible collection.”

“I think their establishing a permanent home with permanent classroom space and gallery space and things like that … will be a transformative move for that part of downtown,” Spencer said.

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