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Taproom will resuscitate historic St. Paul firehouse

September 28, 2018

The old Fire Engine House No. 10 in St. Paul is eerily empty and scattered with remnants of what it once was.

There’s a CPR dummy laid out on a countertop. There are boxes of gauze bandages stacked in a backroom. Nearly every surface is littered with dirt and dust.

But when the garage-style doors slide open and daylight streams in, Travis Temke sees more.

The 39-year-old St. Paul resident is buying the firehouse at 754 Randolph Av. from the city and planning to transform it into a taproom, dining space, coffee shop and banquet hall. The business — which is tentatively slated to open next June — will be the latest addition to the fast-growing area on and around W. 7th Street, where taprooms and restaurants are cropping up in the shadow of the towering Schmidt Brewery.

“There’s something very powerful in the W. 7th neighborhood, where people care very deeply about seeing their neighborhood be preserved, but also have a really healthy openness to new developments coming in,” said City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, whose ward includes the neighborhood. “There’s kind of that sweet spot of dedication and care.”

Temke and his wife, Justine, started looking for a place to open their business in the winter of 2016. When they read a news story about the city putting the old fire station up for sale, he said, they immediately knew it was the right spot.

“I have a passion for historical buildings. I have a passion for reuse. I have a passion for the environment and making sure we reuse the buildings that do exist,” Temke said. “And then the neighborhood — it’s a great neighborhood. It’s loyal, it’s up-and-coming.”

The firehouse was decommissioned after a new station was built in 2010. The city is loaning Temke the purchase price of $220,000, which he doesn’t have to repay if he hires people who may otherwise have a tough time finding jobs, such as people with criminal backgrounds, said Hannah Burchill, a spokeswoman for the city’s Planning and Economic Development Department.

According to St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) documents, the firehouse’s appraised fair-market value was $400,000, and Temke — officially M.O.E. Craft Company, LLC — plans to invest between about $1 million and $1.5 million to renovate the building and the site. After the improvements, the annual property tax assessment on the previously tax-exempt property is projected to be about $40,000.

Other breweries in the area have gone through a similar process of turning old, unused buildings into bustling businesses. Wabasha Brewing Company on the West Side is located in a space originally built as a tin shop in the late 1800s, said co-owner Chris Kolve. Bad Weather Brewing Company on W. 7th Street was an abandoned tire shop, said co-founder Joe Giambruno.

“We liked the idea that we could be one of the first in an area that we knew St. Paul was really pushing towards revamping,” Giambruno said.

Fire Engine House No. 10 was built in two phases in 1885 and 1911, and the city is designating it a historic site. Though only portions of the original building remain, the historic designation is related to the role the firehouse has played in the community. It served residents in St. Paul’s southwest corner before city water mains reached them and was one of the first racially integrated fire stations after the city’s black company disbanded in 1942.

There will be about 24 full-time equivalent jobs across the whole business, Temke said. A head brewer, chef and banquet hall coordinator have already been tapped, he said, though he can’t yet say who they are.

Temke plans to honor the firehouse’s history with a timeline display in the taproom. And once the fire department finishes moving out, there will be efforts to save as many of the original details as possible, from the fire pole to the green lights that signal when the front doors are fully open.

“We’re going to keep whatever they leave,” Temke said, “and then we’ll try to find a spot for it.”

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509

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