June 16, 2024

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Downtown St. Paul’s historic Lowry Hotel, now home to affordable apartments

Downtown St. Paul’s largest property owner is selling a historic apartment building that opened nearly a century ago as the posh Lowry Hotel.

The real estate listing from Madison Equities comes less than a week after the company put its entire downtown office portfolio on the market. The firm’s longtime owner, Jim Crockarell, died in January, leaving the properties to his wife, Rosemary Kortgard.

The 11-story former hotel at 345 Wabasha St. N. now contains 134 apartments, about 27,000 square feet of office space and the Gray Duck Tavern.

There is no asking price for the property, according to broker Abe Roberts of Marcus & Millichap, who said Madison Equities will accept offers through June 18. Its market value is estimated at $9.5 million, according to Ramsey County assessors.

“The seller takes great pride in the real estate and has put a lot of money back into it,” Roberts said. “So I think they’re looking for somebody to do the same — maintain affordable housing and extend the life of this asset by reinvesting in it and in downtown St. Paul.”

Opened in 1928, the Lowry Hotel was one of downtown St. Paul’s swankiest and most popular hangouts, hosting Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Ed Sullivan and other politicians and celebrities. Big-name bands played the ornate ballroom, and rooms went for $2 to $4 per night.

“It seemed to my reportorial eye that half of St. Paul and at least one-fourth of Minneapolis was represented at luncheon there,” a Star Tribune columnist wrote in 1930.

Over the years, the Lowry slowly lost its grandeur. A popular nightclub, the Oz Disco, took over the basement in the 1970s and 1980s. Hotel rooms were converted to apartments, rented by the month. Some became emergency housing for homeless families.

When Crockarell paid $4.8 million for the building in 2012, the ground level was boarded up. Madison Equities spent more than $14 million on upgrades and in 2014 rebranded the property as the Lowry Apartments, according to a company brochure.

Rents range from $600 for a 214-square-foot “micro unit” to $1,200 for a renovated one-bedroom unit.

The ground floor area was remodeled around the Gray Duck Tavern, a Madison Equities concept. Roberts said the company is open to offers on the restaurant.

Madison Equities also owns the downtown Degree of Honor Building, a former office complex that was converted to apartments in 2021, and has an ownership stake in the Seventh Place Apartments. Roberts said Kortgard may consider selling those properties after seeing how the Lowry fares.

Interest in the apartments is likely to exceed that in Crockarell’s office holdings. Investor demand for apartment buildings has outpaced office buildings in the Twin Cities.

The average multifamily vacancy rate in downtown St. Paul at the end of last year was 5.8%, according to a quarterly report from Marquette Advisors. That was almost two percentage points lower than the previous year and on par with the metro as a whole.

Though downtown rents have remained flat, vacancy rates have declined steadily after their 2020 peak of more than 11% — and are likely to continue doing so because little construction is underway.

Staff writer Jim Buchta contributed to this report.