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Brainerd: Seventh Street building undergoes big renovations

A new stone storefront for a building that will house businesses and apartments on South Seventh Street is the most visible sign of what is likely one of the most ambitious renovations currently taking place in downtown Brainerd.

The Downtown Mall on South Seventh Street is being renovated and has 11 spaces for business locations. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch
The former site of the Downtown Mall on South Seventh Street in downtown Brainerd is being transformed into The Lofts, a mix of businesses and apartments. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

A new stone storefront for a building that will house businesses and apartments on South Seventh Street is the most visible sign of what is likely one of the most ambitious renovations currently taking place in downtown Brainerd.

The former site of the Downtown Mall was bought by Pueringer Investments about a year ago and workers are currently transforming the location into The Lofts-a development that will include 14 apartments (upstairs) as well as 12 retail or office spaces (on the street level and downstairs). One of the apartments is handicap accessible.

Dave Pueringer of Pueringer Investments bought the building, which he estimated dates back to 1925-1930, in part to try and bring downtown Brainerd back to its former glory.

"The building was in such bad condition," he recalled in an interview last week. "If we get these (new) apartments with quality it has a good effect on the rest of downtown. I think anything that brings traffic in will help downtown."

Pueringer said he owns between 80 and 100 apartments in the greater downtown area and additional properties in Superior, Wis., Duluth and Eveleth.

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"We've been able to keep them (his rental properties) pretty full," he said. "We'll have no problem filling these."

He said the refurbished spaces in The Loft will offer premier housing among downtown apartment units. The apartments should be ready for tenants in about 2 1/2 to three months. The address is 215 S. Seventh St.

He described the new rental spaces as "state of the art."

Potential tenants may choose from among efficiencies, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. The retail/office spaces include five larger spaces on the main floor.

A new roof was constructed for the building. Security cameras have been installed throughout. LED lighting, laundry facilities, new central air and controlled heat have been added to the site. The heating and cooling systems, Pueringer said, are 97 to 98 percent efficient. The kitchens in the apartments now feature ceramic tile. New windows are double-paned. An elevator is now operational.

"We came close to gutting the upstairs," Pueringer said.

Rents for the apartments will run between $360 and $750 a month.

"We're crazy affordable on rent," Pueringer said.

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The Brainerd landlord gave examples of the types of businesses he envisioned as potential clients at The Lofts. He said there's a main floor space that had previously been used as a church that would work for a bakery/coffee shop. Another spot would work well for a fitness club, he said. One of his larger main floor retail/office spaces has high tin ceilings to give it what Pueringer described as an antique look, giving a nod to the building's vintage age.

A longtime Brainerd property owner, Pueringer said he's been encouraged by developments such as River to Rail and Destination Downtown Business Challenge, which placed emphasis on restoring the downtown neighborhood. Destination Downtown is offering, for the second year, a $50,000 to get a startup or business expansion off the ground in the downtown. River to Rail is an effort to link a planned trail system along the nearby Mississippi River with efforts to rejuvenate downtown. River to Rail is a collaboration and joint effort of the city of Brainerd, Brainerd Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp., the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce and many individual volunteers.

Downtown businesses have seen their share of challenges Pueringer said. Those include street construction projects and competition from tax-increment financed projects away from the downtown in such areas as west Brainerd.

Pueringer's observations of growth and change in in a positive direction in downtown Brainerd played a role in his decision to develop The Lofts.

"That's one of the reasons I bought this building," he said.

The Brainerd landlord is optimistic about the future of downtown Brainerd.

"We've hit our bottom and we're going back up," he said.

Mike O'Rourke is a former journalist with the Brainerd Dispatch. This story was written for the River to Rail project.

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