DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) — For the past 20 years, the old St. Louis County Jail stood as a vacant reminder of trouble. It was an unwanted fixture in downtown Duluth…until a Twin Cities developer heard the cries of those looking to preserve the property.

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Now, Grant Carlson hopes to turn the jail into the most popular address in town.

With its commanding view of Duluth, it seems hard to believe the five-story granite building came close to the wrecking ball.

“The building was built in 1924,” Carlson said. “It held close to 200 inmates, give or take.”

He says the building he now owns is a bit intimidating, especially since it still has jail cells.

“I think our jaws were on the ground, not sure what to think, but we both agreed and thought there’s opportunity here,” he said.

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Carlson’s company will renovate the county old jail into something of value – like apartments, artist’s lofts or even senior housing. Street level could be retail space, a coffee shop or a restaurant – or a mix of all three.

What’s key is the building’s historic significance, which will help pay for the renovations.

“That makes the project eligible for both a 20 percent state and 20 percent federal credit,” Carlson said.

Locked in their 6 by 8 foot cells, inmates didn’t enjoy views of the harbor. Instead, they spent time scribbling messages and counting down the days. It’s funny to think that someday people might pay to stay.

“Most likely there’s going to be some kind of reuse of a cell,” Carlson said.

The challenge to renovating the jail is striking a balance – finding a modern charm and appeal in a former place of punishment.

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Carlson is currently lining up partners in the project. He hopes to finalize plans for the commercial and residential use of the jail in the next six months.