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Tidying up: St. Paul downtown businesses, nonprofits offer music, art and cleaner streets

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Mosaicist Daniela Bianchini applies mortar in Rice Park.
Mosaic artist Daniela Bianchini applies mortar in Rice Park on Monday, preparing to install one of her mosaics on one of dozens of downtown trash containers as part of a summer spruce up effort.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Downtown St. Paul is getting a little polish this summer as nonprofits and local businesses launch a new improvement initiative.

The St. Paul Downtown Alliance kicked off its most public initiative Monday with the first of a handful of staff that will work on cleaning up sidewalks and streets, giving directions and greeting visitors. The alliance also is offering a summer music series, a flower market and several art projects, including a series of mosaics decorating downtown trash bins.

Julio Fesser, vice president of corporate facilities for Securian, a major downtown employer and one of the companies behind the alliance, said the effort has goals beyond this summer. 

"We are making sure we put our best foot forward, and do all we can with this great downtown of ours to attract new employers and retain the ones we have," Fesser said. "And just really bring vitality downtown that's been missing for some time."

James Brown helps launch the Downtown Alliance initiative.
James Brown helps launch the Downtown Alliance initiative on Monday. He worked for the Downtown Improvement District in Minneapolis for five years before joining the Downtown Alliance for its 2019 summer program.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

James Brown leads five ambassadors to fight litter and graffiti, and the city's sometimes bewildering street grid. Brown says smartphones help, sometimes.

  "But you catch a person kind of staring up, looking [around], usually it's a sign of they're lost or they need some kind of help," Brown said. "It's generally our chance to sneak right in and say, 'Hey, how you doing? Anything I can help you with?'"

St. Paul Downtown Alliance president Joe Spencer said the new effort builds on recent improvements like construction of a stadium for the Saints baseball team and a $2 million renovation for Rice Park. The St. Paul group is modeled on Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District.

"As we looked at cities around the country to look at best practices, we found is that using these kinds of safe and clean programs, and having these ambassador services really goes a long way toward improving the overall experience in the downtown," Spencer said.