Darlene Lewis was a quality control technician for the Gillette Co. back in the 1970s, but a tour Friday of the downtown St. Paul factory where she tested products such as Dippity-Do and White Rain evoked no great nostalgia.
The Gillette/Diamond Products building “employed a lot of people in good jobs, so I was sad to see that go,” she said.
But the building itself? Better off as a site for the Saints ballpark, she said.
Lewis accompanied reporters and photographers on a final public tour of the musty innards of the now-vacant factory, which will begin to be razed Monday to make room for the future Lowertown ballpark.
An event kicking off the four-month demolition period will be held Saturday at the site.
There wasn’t much left to see Friday. The factory is a cool and dark cavern of concrete, intersected by rows of pillars and littered with metal fluorescent light casings and a few remnants of ripped-up equipment from the days when it was a bustling workplace for hundreds of chemists, assemblers and managers.
Logan Gerken, Ryan Companies’ lead architect on the ballpark project, showed how the ballpark would be placed on the factory floor. Over here would be the warning track for right field, he said. That’s where the locker rooms will be.
Just outside the factory, the approximate locations of home plate and third base have been painted on E. 5th Street.
Bob Curley, a Ryan superintendent leading the tour, warned reporters to watch for deep holes bored in the concrete floor. The holes are from soil borings that found pollutants had more deeply penetrated than previously thought, helping to jack up the price of the project $8.8 million over its $54 million budget.
Mike Hahm, the city’s parks and recreation director, said that officials are close to a solution on plugging the financing gap. He said that the Saints have committed to an additional $1 million on top of the team’s previous $1.5 million cash pledge, and $8.5 million in city bonding that the team will pay off in rent.
Funding for the project includes a $25 million state grant and a total of $17 million in city bonding. St. Paul won a $1 million state grant to remove pollutants from the 11-acre site.
“We’re on schedule” to open for the 2015 Saints season, Hahm said.
The project, directed by Ryan Cos., will transform the site into a 7,000-seat ballpark expected to annually host more than 100 youth, amateur and college events in addition to 50 Saints games. Officials say it will draw 400,000 visitors per year.
Ryan hired Rachel Contracting of St. Michael, Minn., to demolish the two-story (plus basement), 650,000 square-foot factory. Interior demolition began two weeks ago. Gerken said that at least 90 percent of the building materials, mostly concrete and rebar, will be recycled for other uses.
Most of the demolition will be done with backhoes equipped with concrete munchers, excavators and jack hammers, Curley said. A wrecking ball likely would just glance off the building’s concrete shell.
Lewis, who went from Gillette to work as a chemist for Ecolab and also served on the West St. Paul City Council, joked about the “ghosts” in the factory but confessed that she didn’t recognize much as she did a final walk-through.
A native of St. Paul’s West End, she said she looked forward to seeing the Saints play where she once tested creme rinse.
“I think this is a wonderful project for Lowertown,” she said.