Chris Simmons

   ST. PAUL – There will be no department stores operating downtown for the first time in 130 year as the closing of the Macy’s store gets under way.

   ”The downtown area has been in decline for a long time,” Chris Simmons, Senior Vice President, Welsh Companies LLC and an X Team International partner, tells GlobeSt.com in an interview. “It’s just not what it used to be.”
   And the St. Paul closing looks to benefit other major shopping centers in the area, Simmons said, while not inconveniencing shoppers very much. Macy’s will continue to operate stores in downtown Minneapolis, at the Rosedale Center in Roseville, at the Maplewood Mall in Maplewood, at the Burnsville Center in Burnsville, at the Southdale Center in Edina, at the Ridgedale Center in Minnetonka, and at the Mall of America in Bloomington.
   ”Consumers won’t be too impacted,” Simmons says. “But downtown St. Paul will be. It will be devastating.”
   But Mayor Chris Coleman sees the closing differently, in a more positive light.
   “In 2001, downtown Saint Paul was in the beginning stages of recovery after several years of decline and losing a big-box store like Macy’s could have potentially jeopardized that recovery,” Coleman says in a press release. “But today the face of downtown has changed, and we stand on a firm foundation that includes the building of hundreds of new housing units, a Lund’s grocery store, the Lowertown regional ballpark, a revitalized Union Depot, and an almost completed Central Corridor light rail line.”
   St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development Director Cecile Bedor echoes the mayor’s optimistic sentiments.
   “We are confident that the development community will recognize the potential (of the Macy’s site),” Bedor says in the release. “And we’re looking forward to working with Macy’s to ensure a quick and efficient sale and reuse.”
   But Simmons isn’t buyng it. He tells GlobeSt that the private sector has been contracting in the central business district while the public sector has been expanding, adding that St. Paul as the state capitol is home to many local, state and federal employees. 
   ”Private business is heading out to greener pastures while government keeps expanding – this makes downtown primarily an area of government workers, running Monday to Friday, from 9 to 5.”
   Currently, the St. Paul CBD office vacancy rate stands at about 20.5%, according to Welsh data. Simmons says that St. Paul also palls in comparison to its Twin City in terms of office capacity. Downtown St. Paul currently has 8.4 million square feet of office space compared to 28 million SF in Minneapolis, according to Welsh figures.

   The city’s Chamber of Commerce, however, touts the closing as an opportunity for redevelopment.  

   “We understand that large national retailers have been trending for years to the suburban mall model,” says Chamber President Matt Kramer. “And while we hate to see Macy’s leave Saint Paul, we are very optimistic about the quick redevelopment of this site given its prime real estate location.”
   ”Officials have called this closing an ‘opportunity’ for the city,” Simmons says, “But I just don’t see it. Who is gong to move in? You have to have something there to attract them.”
   He points out that Minneapolis is home to the Twins MLB baseball team, Vikings NFL football team,  and Timberwolves NBA basketball team. St. Paul, by contrast, has only one professional team, the Saints NHL hockey team.
   Across the United States, Cincinnati-based Macy’s is closing four other stores and a Bloomingdale’s. They are located in Houston, Pasadena, Honolulu and Belmont, MA; the Bloomingdale’s store is in Las Vegas. In January 2012, Macy’s closed its Bloomingdale’s store in the Mall of America in Bloomington.
   Welsh is a commercial real estate firm based in the Twin Cities. It offers architecture, brokerage, construction, development, financing, facility and property management services along with private non-traded real estate investments.