St. Paul mayor's State of the City speech focuses on transit, talent

Mayor Chris Coleman
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman delivers his State of the City address Monday, March 25, 2013 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The keys to St. Paul's future are "tracks, trails, talent, technology and traction," Mayor Chris Coleman said in his 8th annual State of the City speech Monday.

In addition to those "five Ts," Coleman focused on some of the challenges St. Paul faces.

As Coleman prepared to deliver his speech, a few blocks away, workers used hammers and crowbars to pry a metal sign off the front of the downtown Macy's department store. The store closed just over a week ago, and some saw it as an ominous event for the city. But rather than avoiding that fact, Coleman brought up Macy's repeatedly in his speech.

"The loss of the last remaining department store in a city that once held eight department stores in its downtown is a reminder that our work is not done," Coleman said.

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Infographic: St. Paul's growth under Mayor Coleman's leadership

The mayor announced that he has organized a task force to figure out what to do with the Macy's site and other vacant buildings in downtown St. Paul. He also unveiled a variety of initiatives aimed at attracting young people to the city.

"There are a number of ways that people refer to this demographic, Generation Y, Millenials. For Connie and me, it's Molly and Aidan," Coleman said, referring to his wife and their two children. "But whatever their name, the truth is the same. They are the future workforce for our city."

"You've got Southwest Corridor. You've got the commuter rail. You've got bus rapid transit lines. You've got Bottineau. You've got all of this investment that's occurring."

That's where Coleman's" five Ts" come in. Young people are the talent.

Coleman says young people expect a city hip to technology. To that end, St. Paul is releasing a smart phone application that will let residents report potholes on the go.

Trails is shorthand for more bike lanes, which are important to younger demographics. Coleman wants to link the Gateway and Bruce Vento bike trails to the extremely popular Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis.

Traction means continually working to improve the city, and tracks - as in light rail -- are one way to do that. It's all about steering more transit funding to the east metro. In an interview following his speech, Coleman explained that most of the new transit projects in the pipeline right now are concentrated west of the river.

"You've got Southwest Corridor. You've got the commuter rail. You've got bus rapid transit lines. You've got Bottineau. You've got all of this investment that's occurring," Coleman said. "That's all a great thing. I don't detract from any of it. We have to be better organized in the east metro to see the same level of investment over here."

Transit advocates from the west metro agree with Coleman. Peter Wagenius, policy director for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, points out that other parts of the country spend far more on transit than either half of the Twin Cities.

"This is not a competition between Minneapolis and St. Paul," Wagenius said. "This a competition between St. Paul and Minneapolis as a region with other regions that are way ahead of St. Paul and Minneapolis."

Rybak will deliver his State of the City speech April 10.