After four years of sitting empty, the St. Paul Sears store near the State Capitol has sold for $7 million, marking a new chapter for the old department store.
The news symbolizes a major turning point for one of St. Paul's prime development sites.
The approximately 60-year-old Sears building between Marion and Rice streets has been closed since January 2019.
The new owners are a group called Pacifica St Paul LLC, comprised of Chicago area-based developer the Windfall Group, which Eddie Ni leads. Marshall Nguyen, a local real estate broker for the Caspian Group,is also part of the ownership group and helped broker the deal, which became public through an electronic certificate of real estate value last week.
"I think people that know St. Paul, people that know real estate, everybody understands how important the site is," Nguyen said. "It's very high-profile. We are just happy that we were able to pull it off."
Pacifica has "a lot of different ideas of what could do well" at the site, which is about 17 acres and includes two parcels encompassing the store and its surrounding parking lots, Nguyen said. The group will likely not pursue an office use, he said.
The ownership is looking at the potential of buying and redeveloping other Sears across the country. Twin Cities officials and residents have eagerly discussed concerns about the fate of numerous vacant department stores, including the closed Sears at Burnsville Center, which is in a state of disrepair.
The timeline for the development of the St. Paul site is still to be determined.
Ni and Nguyen have also partnered to redevelop a portion of the beleaguered Burnsville Center. Their development group Pacific Square Burnsville bought a portion of the mall last year for $10.6 million that includes an operating Dick's Sporting Goods, Kirkland's Home, restaurants and the now-closed Gordmans. As part of the estimated $30 million project, the group is working on bringing an Asian grocery store, food hall and two new restaurants to the existing space and a new addition still in the works. The opening is slated for early 2024.
Nguyen also helped broker a deal that turned a former Gander Outdoors store in Eden Prairie into the Asia Mall grocery and retail center, which opened late last year.
The future development of the St. Paul Sears will not have an Asian food and retail focus, Nguyen said.
There have been numerous visions for the Sears site. At one point, former Sears owners Seritage SRC Finance LLC, associated with New York-based Seritage Growth Properties, suggested the St. Paul Sears could be the site of multistory apartment and office buildings surrounding a park. Local developer Kraus-Anderson Construction introduced some other plans for the site in 2019, but they fell apart as well.
The Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board (CAAPB), which would have to approve redevelopment plans in the area where the Sears is located, has not received any proposed plans for the site as of Monday, said Merritt Clapp-Smith, CAAPB's executive secretary, in an email.
"The CAAPB is excited to hear the news of a potential sale and looks forward to working with the city, the community and a future developer to advance a great mixed-use site in the heart of St. Paul," Clapp-Smith said in an email.