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Planned business incubator wins St. Paul STAR grant

A planned business incubator in St. Paul’s Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood is the next step in an effort to turn East Seventh Street, a road once dominated by car dealerships, into a more people-oriented and entrepreneurial corridor, community planners say.

City officials awarded the incubator a $350,000 Neighborhood Sales Tax Revitalization grant this year — the largest award in the 2016 batch.

The STAR funding is a critical piece of the $2 million endeavor to revamp an old Chevrolet car dealership at 809 E. Seventh St., said Jim Erchul, the executive director for the Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this without that [STAR grant], because of the mathematics of financing a project like this,” he said. “It just doesn’t work in terms of what you can get for rent versus what it would cost to renovate that building.”

The building will need a new roof, brick work, heating and cooling systems and an interior makeover to accommodate the new uses, Erchul said.

The Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services organization has been leading the charge on the project along with St. Paul-based Neighborhood Development Center, which manages other business incubators in the Twin Cities and offers entrepreneur training.

The groups want to turn the building into an aspiring entrepreneur and contractor haven, with space for construction materials, a shared co-working office and room for a few small businesses.

One of the main goals is to get young people and business owners “rubbing elbows” as companies grow and look to hire people, Erchul said. The incubator will be especially good for contractors because of the space available to store materials, he said.

“Most of the contractors that we’re working with, that’s what they want to do,” Erchul said. “That’s how they got into it in the first place.”

The 13,000-square-foot building, at the northwest corner of Arcade and East Seventh streets, was home to the Animal Ark Thrift and Pet Store until it closed earlier this year.

“Seventh Street was like an auto dealership street at one time,” Erchul said. “You know how they talk about that on University Avenue? The same thing was going on Seventh Street. I had auto dealer historians come by because they were doing research on it.”

Though the renovation plans are in the early stages, the building is scheduled to be up and running in the first half of 2017.

The investment marks the second time in recent years the neighborhood has seen a significant investment from the city’s STAR program. A $500,000 STAR grant from 2012 was aimed at boosting businesses and economic development along East Seventh Street by supporting local property ownership, improving buildings and signage, and encouraging shared parking and landscaping.

The last of that 2012 money, which was overseen by the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council, will be spent on the corridor for those efforts this year, said Deanna Abbott-Foster, executive director of the council. The grant was a huge milestone for the community, she added.

“STAR money previously had not been coming to this area, and… [businesses] were all just kind of struggling along,” she said. “So this is another iteration of a very strategic effort to rebuild the business district on Seventh Street.”

Dayton’s Bluff is roughly bordered by the Mississippi River to the south, Phalen Boulevard to the north, Etna Street to the east, and a section that reaches as far west as Interstate 35E.

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