St. Paul neighborhood projects get boost from national contest

Nelson's house
This Victorian style house on St. Paul's east side will get a makeover, thanks to a contest sponsored by the cable network HGTV. It's owned by Kris Nelson, whose husband died 18 months ago at the age of 35.
Photo courtesy of HGTV

A young widow who put off restoring her St. Paul fixer-upper after the death of her husband will finally get the job done, thanks to a national do-gooder contest sponsored by HGTV.

The home-and-garden network announced Tuesday St. Paul was one of five cities to win a new campaign that has been described as the "Extreme Makeover" for community-revitalization projects. Starting last November, the public voted online for their favorite city in the contest called "Change the World, Start at Home."

St. Paul's win means Kristenza Nelson's Victorian house in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood will get new exterior siding, an updated bathroom, and a kitchen floor to replace her existing one that is riddled with holes.

The view of downtown St. Paul.
The view of downtown St. Paul from the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Nelson and her husband, Tom, dreamed of finishing the home together. Halfway through the project, however, Tom died in 2006 of a heart attack. He was 35.

His death left Kristenza alone with the task of raising two young boys, now 4 and 2. Without money or construction know-how, she postponed all work on the historic house.

Other St. Paul winners include the nearby Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and the Wilder Recreation Center. All three projects are located in the city's eastside neighborhoods.

The Vento park is in need of mulching, while the rec center could use some landscaping and other upgrades, including a green roof, said Kathryn Greiner, who heads the program's local partner, Rebuilding Together Twin Cities.

It's unclear how much money HGTV will donate to the projects. The focus now is on finding additional sponsors and volunteers.

The program is looking for skilled craftsmen and construction workers as well as ordinary folks who "can push a wheelbarrow," said Greiner.

Since news reports of Nelson's story ran, she has received cards and packages from strangers as far away as Louisiana. The messages were all the same, Nelson said: "You're in our thoughts, and we're pulling for you.

Other winning cities are Baltimore, New Orleans, Denver and Washington D.C.

Crews will begin work in late March.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.