Finance & Commerce Top Projects of 2016: Custom House

F & C Custom House


By Frank Jossi

The 750,000-square-foot Custom House is the result of an ambitious renovation of the Eugene McCarthy Post Office building in downtown St. Paul into a hotel and apartments.

Exeter Group Principal Thomas Nelson said the project faced three enormous challenges. One was the sheer size of the building and the issue of financing such a large tax credit renovation.

Secondly, a 1961 annex on the back side blocked natural light from coming into part of the building and presented the problem of what to do with the space, he said.

The solution to the first problem was to sell off part of the post office to Nelson Construction and Development, which constructed the Hyatt Place hotel on the first five floors. Exeter turned the sixth through 17th floors into 202 apartments. To bring in natural light the annex blocked, a 12,000-square-foot five story light well was created. The annex became a self-storage center, the first in downtown St. Paul, Nelson said.

With two developers came two sets of contractors, said Jessie Houlihan Bingen, president of Stahl, which built out the hotel. “It worked out pretty well,” Bingen said. “We had to coordinate around access and staging areas that we shared. But we worked through those issues.”

The hotel’s many windows were brought back to their original 13-foot size to meet historic guidelines, she said. The Stahl team installed new materials with historic, matching legacy marble, preserving plaster walls, and incorporating many building features within the hotel.

Nelson and the design firms had the additional task of negotiating with Hyatt to plan for the variances from its standards involving taller ceiling heights, Bingen said.

“Our firm had the great task of working with the expanded team to evolve our portion of the building while preserving its historic integrity,” she said.

Added Nelson: “It was an incredible team effort, with the city of St. Paul, Exeter Group and Nelson coming together to make it happen.”

Address: 180 E. Kellogg Blvd. St. Paul

Project cost: $120 million

Project size: 202 apartments; 149 hotel rooms

Owner: Exeter Group (apartments); Nelson Construction and Development; and SPMU LP (hotel)

Contractor: Frana Cos. (apartments); Stahl Construction (hotel)

Architect: BKV Group (apartments); INVISION Architecture (hotel)

Engineer: BKV Group (both sections)

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