Renaissance Box, Saint Paul

Exterior 1 after

Renaissance Box

Constructed in 1914, the Renaissance Box was originally known as the O’Donnell Shoe Factory.  It served Minnesota’s shoe industry at the height of its prosperity, and by 1928, the O’Donnell Shoe Company had become a leading firm.  Its significance, however, goes beyond its original tenant.  The six-story building is engineered in cast-in-place concrete and was an early design using the Turner Concrete column structural system. The innovative structural system, patented by Minneapolitan C.A.P. Turner in 1908, uses only the slab for structural support and does not require beams. The structural slab is supported by concrete columns with uniquely configured capitals, a featured retained and celebrated in this project.

Several development proposals came and went for the O’Donnell Shoe Factory, the last of which calling the building Renaissance Box.  Purchasing the building out of foreclosure in 2006, nonprofit affordable housing developer Aeon opted to keep the name as they themselves inspired its renaissance.  Aeon sought to create a unique property that would truly benefit St. Paul by providing 70 affordable housing units, 14 units dedicated to those transitioning out of homelessness, an art studio and gallery space for residents, a green roof, and designed to achieve LEED Gold certification in 2012.

In August 2009, Renaissance Box was entered into the National Register of Historic Places, and expects to receive both federal and state historic tax credits, the first project in the state to use the new Minnesota incentive. But, for the passage of the state historic tax credit program in 2010, this project may never have gone forward.  Aeon’s efforts have saved the Renaissance Box from vacancy and deterioration, restored the building’s original aesthetic with additional energy-saving features, and reclaimed a neighborhood asset for needed affordable housing opportunities. Renaissance Box proves that historic preservation is not only the original green design, but also successful development.

General Partners: Ren Box LLC, Aeon; Developer/Nonprofit Organization: Aeon; Architect: LHB; Historic Consultant: Landscape Research LLC ; Contractor: Frerichs Construction; Financiers: Housing and Redevelopment Authority of the City of St. Paul, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Wells Fargo Bank, Family Housing Fund, Metropolitan Council, F. R. Bigelow Foundation, National Trust Loan Fund, The Saint Paul Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Houses of Hope Fund, Premier Banks, National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation, Enterprise Green Communities, The State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society, National Housing Trust Community Development Fund, Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation, Fannie Mae, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Non-profits Assistance Fund

The O'Donnell Shoe Company

Work room, Foot, Schulze & Company's Shoe Factory, St. Paul (Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)