Mayor Coleman outlines vision for St. Paul development

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Photo courtesy of the city of St. Paul

Mayor Chris Coleman on Monday outlined his vision for St. Paul's downtown in his annual State of the City address, and it's a plan that is very different from how the city looks right now.

For months, heavy equipment has shaken Cedar St. as work crews prepared the ground for the light rail tracks that will carry passengers from St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis starting in 2014.

In his speech, Coleman acknowledged the "disruptive" construction but told the 200 people at the James J. Hill Library that the worst part will be over by the end of 2013.

"After 30 years of discussion we can now talk about months until completion," Coleman said. "We can talk about opportunities to be seized and finally connect our residents to jobs, schools and services."

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Coleman also touted renovation of the Union Depot in Lowertown, which will serve as a hub for the light rail, plus Amtrak trains, buses, bikes and taxis. That $240 million project is funded primarily by the federal government and Ramsey County and is slated for completion by the end of this year.

Another big development Coleman wants to see in Lowertown is a new ballpark for the minor league St. Paul Saints baseball team. He announced today that the city's Port Authority has struck a deal to buy the old Diamond Products building, where the proposed stadium would be built.

Gov. Mark Dayton wants to put $27 million in state bonding money into the ballpark. That would cover about half the ballpark's cost, with the city and the team covering the rest. The House GOP also signaled some support for the project last week but at a lower level, $2 million. Coleman told the crowd that the next few weeks will be critical to building the Lowertown ballpark.

"We can talk about opportunities to be seized and finally connect our residents to jobs, schools and services."

"I want everyone to call the leadership of the House and the Senate. Tell them that businesses need this project," Coleman said. "Tell them that families need this project. Tell them that St. Paul needs this project to be completed."

The Senate GOP has not yet released its proposed bonding bill.

The mayor's speech won positive response from Dave Thune, who represents downtown on the St. Paul City Council.

"There won't be part of downtown that's not part of a resurgence," Thune said. "That's one of the good things when you have a mayor that works well with the city council and with the business community and with the residential community."

Thune and Coleman clashed last week when the mayor threatened to veto a council decision on a parking variance for a cupcake shop. But the two worked together on the Penfield a $62 million apartment complex and grocery store the city will help finance. A ground breaking is expected as soon as June.

Downtown resident Jo Ann Hendricks is excited about that, and all the other development coming to downtown

"It used to be you could roll up the sidewalks in downtown St. Paul at 9 o'clock at night," Hendricks said.

There's an upside to the lack of nightlife, Hendricks says, but she's not worried about that changing too much. She doubts downtown St. Paul will ever become a wild and crazy place.