It just got a lot easier for most in Ramsey County to pay property taxes, research their own (or their neighbor’s) home valuation, or cast an absentee ballot.
The county’s Property Records and Revenue Department has a new home, across the river from downtown, at 90 W. Plato Blvd., just a bit west of Wabasha Street South.
And it’s got ample, free parking.
New site saves all the downtown hassles
The old location, in the maze-like confines of the former West Publishing Building, was great if you worked or lived downtown. But for the rest of us, it was a huge pain to find parking somewhere near St. Peter Street and Kellogg Boulevard, feed the meter or negotiate the medieval Victory Ramp so you could run inside for what usually was a brief transaction.
And coming through the skyways, you could descend to the City Hall basement and take the tunnel over to the West complex. Winding through the various levels — the seventh floor was the “ground floor” off Kellogg — most eventually found the right office.
“We’ve finally given the public a place where they can park their cars and walk right up to the door,” said Ramsey County Board Chair Tony Bennett. “This is great for our walk-up trade.”
Although most homeowners pay their property taxes through escrow or mail the check directly to the county coffers, many like to take it there in person and hand it over to a real clerk. Same thing with absentee ballots (elections are part of the Property Tax Department). Most return their absentee ballots by mail, but as an election approaches, some want to personally hand over their votes.
Jenny Adrian, sitting at the information desk last week, told me: “Everybody loves the parking.”
County to migrate from former West Building
Commissioner Rafael Ortega said the Property Records department move is the beginning of a large county migration from the former West Building. The county board meets today with two bidders who want to develop the West site. It’s some of downtown’s most desirable property, sitting high on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.
The two-block stretch includes the vacant jail site — with cell windows directly overlooking the river, giving the inmates arguably the best views in town — along with a series of connected buildings built decades ago by West Publishing. The county moved many operations into the buildings after West left for Eagan in 1992.
In order to make the project financially feasible, the developers are expected to propose razing the site, then building a hotel, condos and office space in a gradual development.
(Sounds a lot like Jerry Trooien’s grandiose Bridges project, on the riverbank across from downtown. It, too, needed a hotel, condos and lots of retail to make the project financially feasible. But city officials nixed the deal in September, claiming problems with riverfront views, a huge tax-increment financing deal, and a fear that the project would suck the life out of St. Paul — though some would say it’s too late for that concern.)
Meanwhile, county officials are working to make more and more public information available on the Internet, so there may come a day when few will ever have to come to the Property Records office in person. But until all that information is accessible via keystrokes, it’s nice to have a close, free place to park.