OLD FRONTENAC, Minn. -- In October 2018, John Rupp, the CEO of Commonwealth Properties, was given the "OK" from county and township boards to develop the historic Villa Maria into an event venue and hotel. Just shy of one year later on Saturday, Sept. 21, the first public event was held in the Villa Maria: a Red Wing Arts show.

While the majority of the Villa is under construction, the main banquet hall (previously the chapel) is close to completion and served as the space for the exhibit, held as part of Frontenac's 160th anniversary celebration.

According to Emily Guida Foos, the executive director of Red Wing Arts, when the nonprofit originally began talking to Rupp about the show this spring, the entire building was gutted: no finished floors or decorative details could be seen.

The hall was finalized a couple weeks in time for Rupp's son's wedding, the first event to be held in the renovated space. The nuptials also tested the various venues and locations for events. And, when the doors opened for the art show Saturday, visitors were greeted with new carpet, rows of chandeliers and art displayed throughout the space.

The process to update the building coincided with work on updating the surrounding acreage.

"We have done a lot of work on the grounds," Rupp explained. "So now we have three different locations for outdoor tents in addition to three indoor banquet venues. So we'll have half a dozen different ways that a person could plan a customized event."

Rupp went on to say that it is up to hosts to decide what their event will look like: "We're not going to plan everybody's event; that's their job. We'll make it possible."

The construction plan is to have the six spaces ready for rental by spring 2020. The lodging portion, made up of 29 rooms, will be ready the fall of 2020. Rupp explained to a group of visitors that the building's original bedrooms for students and nuns were very small; just enough room for a bed and a dresser. He is combining rooms to expand their square footage.

While Commonwealth Properties works to convert the former Catholic girls school into an event destination, Rupp has worked to stay in contact with the Ursuline Sisters who had once resided at the Villa Maria.

Rupp told those gathered Saturday that before finalizing the purchase, he flew to St. Louis and New Orleans to visit with the sisters. When he informed them that he planned to convert the former altar space or chancel into a bar, they are reported to have quipped, "It wouldn't be the first time alcohol was consumed there."

Along with offering a space for events and personal getaways, the Villa Maria property offers access to Frontenac State Park.

"That's one of the major draws," Rupp told the Republican Eagle, "to come back to a natural park of this scale. There are not many 3,000-acre parks in a location like this that's anywhere near the Twin Cities."

Though the venues and hotel rooms are not yet ready to be rented, the Villa Maria is open for wedding inquiries and Rupp is keeping in contact with people who show interest in staying in one of the rooms once they are opened.

For more information about the Villa Maria, visit www.villamariamn.com.