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Historic depot transformed into hotel complex

By Bob Retzlaff

retz@postbulletin.com

They have made something new out of something old in downtown Minneapolis.

A massive $60 million renovation of the historic Milwaukee Road Depot -- some 20 years after the building became vacant -- was completed recently and the entire complex is open for business.

The century-old depot, one of the most historic structures in Minneapolis, is located on the corner of Third and Washington avenues south. It is only two blocks away from the city's business and shopping districts, and only a block from the historic mill district, a riverfront park and the Mississippi River.

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The original building was renovated and expanded into a complex that includes two hotels, an indoor water park, a restaurant, banquet space, heated underground parking and a year-round enclosed ice skating rink. The latter opened some months ago.

About $20 million was poured into the project to rehabilitate the depot, and another $40 million was spent on other portions of the complex.

The two lodging components of the facility are a 227-room Courtyard by Marriott and a 130-unit Residence Inn by Marriott.

The Courtyard includes 23 one-of-a-kind specialty suites in the original depot and features coffered and arched ceilings. The suites are decorated with historic wall coverings, friezes, antique-style furnishings, windows with cascades and swags, and bathrooms with granite countertops and glass fixtures. A permanent interpretive center displaying depot memorabilia and pictures is located within the lobby.

The Residence Inn offers studio and one- and two-bedroom options. Decorated with mahogany and brass furnishings, the suites have separate working, eating and sleeping areas and are being marketed toward business travelers or others visiting for an extended stay.

Part of the original depot -- the waiting area -- has been transformed into a 4,658-square-foot Great Hall for banquet space. It features 19th-century architectural detail with three-story ceilings, three restored skylights, hand-carved oak woodwork and arched openings.

The one-time roofed train shed at the depot was converted into 30,000 square feet of event space that can host outdoor trade shows, employee barbecues or tailgate parties.

Another noteworthy area of the complex is a 15,000-square-foot indoor water park with four pools. Set behind a glass atrium, the water park connects the two hotels. It features a 185-foot, three-story slide that spirals outside and back into the building and a colorful train engine that revives the historic rail days with a twist of animation: Train cars, suspended bridges, a splash fountain and various other elements add to the adventure.

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A year-round climate-controlled figure skating rink has been open for some months, and its glass walls provide easy viewing of the Minneapolis skyline.

The original depot was built in 1899 and its style described as a Renaissance Revival. Cost of its construction was about $200,000 and it was full of activity until 1971 when Milwaukee Road terminated rail service to Minneapolis and converted the building into office space. At the peak of activity in 1920, 29 trains departed daily.

In 1978, the depot and then early freighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Minneapolis Community Development Agency purchased the depot and the seven-block surrounding area from the Resolution Trust corporation for $2 million to preserve the building's historic significance. Three years ago the area was sold to CSM Corporation, a St.Paul-based real estate development and management firm.

More Disney ships?

Disney Cruise Line, which

got into the business just three years ago with two ships, may opt for more vessels.

A spokesman said that the line's "solid success in the face of an uncertain economy has led us to believe there is substantially more demand for Disney Cruise Line vacations than our current fleet can accommodate."

As a result, the line has begun formal discussions with shipyards in Italy, France, Germany and Finland and is now studying design features and deployment options.

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Here and there

International guests visiting Louisiana can take advantage of a local tax-free program to save money on their purchases. Louisiana Tax-free Shopping provides refunds of state sales taxes on purchases made by international travelers. In some cases, local taxes are refunded, too.

A 10-year effort to get approvals to build a $880 million Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park in De Soto, Kan., is officially dead. Promoters said they spent $40 million in design and promoting the project trying to get approvals from local governments. Political obstacles were too great, developers explained.

Bob Retzlaff is travel editor of the Post-Bulletin. He can be reached by phone (507-285-7704) or e-mail (retz@postbulletin.com).

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