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A new park in St. Paul’s future will fill a need in Frogtown

The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation has agreed to sell its old 12-acre site in Frogtown to the Trust for Public Land.

I’ve often wondered at the foresight of St. Paul’s long-ago elders, who acquired 300 acres of land in 1873 way out on the outskirts of town, and had faith that the city could grow around their new Como Park.

High land prices a d today’s anti-tax environment might make it seem unlikely that fully-developed cities would be able to buy more land and devote it to parks.

But despite the tough economic times, St. Paul may be on the verge of getting a new urban park, anyway, with news this week that the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation has agreed to sell its old 12-acre site in Frogtown to the Trust for Public Land for $2.2 million.

The trust will work with the city to raise the money, and then they envision the land, at 919 LaFond Ave, being used for a variety of activities, including an urban demonstration farm, a recreation area and a nature sanctuary.

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And that’s a boost for St. Paul’s strapped parks department, which has long wanted to put another park in the economically depressed Frogtown area.

This is just the beginning step, said Brad Meyer of the city parks department.

“We now have been given 18 months to work with TPL to find the necessary funding to buy the land and figure next steps (along with exact amenities/concepts that will happen at the site),” Meyer said.

“We’ll know more after 18 months (or hopefully sooner) — but this is a tremendous first step.”

Meyer said the process started as a “grass-roots community initiative/vision in the Frogtown neighborhood, called Frogtown Farms.” That group would like to use some of the land for the urban farm to teach community members to cultivate their own home gardens.

The land was once the Sisters of Good Shepard convent, and became the Wilder headquarters from 1971 until 2007 when its new building was finished at Lexington Parkway and University Avenue.

Wilder is taking a financial hit, for the public good, by selling the land for less than half of what past appraisals put its value.

But that fits the Wilder mission, said MayKao Y. Hang, Wilder president and CEO:

“We are pleased that the property will be used to provide green space for public use and will continue to be of benefit to the community.

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In allowing The Trust for Public Land, working in conjunction with our friends in the City of Saint Paul and the Frogtown Neighborhood, to purchase this property at a reduced price, we hope this agreement will provide park and green space for current and future generations to enjoy.”

Wilder officials said the acreage will not only provide green space for the urban residents, but also “will allow a safe place for neighborhood residents to experience nature, preserve dozens of mature growth trees, provide community sledding and other recreation, and preserve public access.”