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Old Minnesota hotel gets new life as dorm

By Burl Gilyard
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis (AP) — A downtown St. Paul building that’s more than 80 years old will soon have a new purpose: student housing.

The growing, St. Paul-based McNally Smith College of Music has worked out a deal for 34 new dorm rooms at the old Hotel Lowry building.

McNally Smith’s president, Harry Chalmiers, said he was reminded while visiting his daughter in California that dorms can be a key part of college life.

“It’s just such an important part of the college experience,” Chalmiers said. “Now, we’re trying to provide that kind of opportunity for our students. We’re trying to attract students from all over the world.”

Chalmiers said he expects the college to have nearly 800 students this fall.

“To have housing just a few blocks away from the main campus also enhances our ability to keep students in the neighborhood. We have stuff going on practically every night of the week,” Chalmiers said. “I’ve seen colleges have a tremendous positive effect on the economy. We can make a contribution, especially as the college grows.”

The rooms, which will be available this fall, are designed to accommodate about 100 students. The rooms for McNally Smith students will be on the third and fourth floors of the 10-story building. Chalmiers said McNally Smith will manage the dorm units.

The building is about five blocks from the McNally Smith campus. McNally Smith will offer van service between the dorms and the campus.

There’s been talk for years of rehabbing the Hotel Lowry, which is home to other apartment units. The property, across the street from St. Paul’s City Hall, dates to 1926. During the 1970s and 1980s, the building housed the Oz nightclub on the ground floor.

Property owner John Rupp of St. Paul-based Commonwealth Properties Inc. could not be reached for comment.

McNally Smith already leases two floors of another Rupp building, the Exchange Building, for administrative space.

“We’ve been renting from him for three years. We have a very good relationship with John,” Chalmiers said. “John has really stepped up to partner with us to make this dorm thing possible. If this goes well and we manage it well, there’s certainly a lot of room for growth here.”

St. Paul Council Member Dave Thune, who represents the downtown area, praised the plan for McNally Smith dorm rooms in the old Hotel Lowry.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing for several reasons. McNally Smith has just been one of these unsuspected, transformative things in downtown,” Thune said. “If I were a student, I would just be happy as a clam.”

Thune said Rupp has been working to spruce up the old building.

“John has been working slowly but surely to resurrect the old hotel. The ballroom is fantastic. Sooner or later we’re going to have a great old hotel open again. This really helps move things toward that,” Thune said.

“What he’s got is an incredibly wonderful property and probably the most creative mind downtown.”

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