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St. Paul ‘good news’ in Mayor Coleman’s State of the City is mostly ‘old news’

Projects include a downtown ballpark, the coming of light rail and more developments. But there’s the Macy’s vacancy to contend with, too.

"In a core downtown that is limited in geography, we have to maximize every opportunity to bring business to downtown," Mayor Chris Coleman said.
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s offered his eighth State of the City speech Monday, but this year, most of his good news was “old news”: light rail and Saints ballpark and the Penfield/Lunds, development all set to open in the coming year or years.

Lots of redevelopment activity at the old Hamm’s and Schmidt breweries; continuing work with the school district to close the achievement gap. And the oft-celebrated blooming of the Lowertown bar and restaurant scene, along with restaurants in the neighborhoods.

The bad news was old news, too.

He, of course, had to mention Macy’s, which closed 10 days ago after months of public lament in the media and around town. He’s looking ahead on that one: “Now, the current [empty] Macy’s block represents an opportunity to prove that our momentum is real. We must make the most of this opportunity.”

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That summarized the tone of this year’s speech: the need to leverage some of the ongoing improvements and not get caught flat-footed.

He spoke Monday at the Crowne Plaza, which will be receiving a facelift following its recent acquisiton by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, which recently also bought a second downtown hotel.

Coleman also outlined some new proposals:

One will be a mobile phone app to report potholes and broken street lights.

“Technological excellence is no longer a choice. It is a necessity. In this digital age, we must meet residents where they are — and they’re on their smart phones. The launch of ‘Saint Paul Connect’ will help make our city more responsive to our residents,” Coleman said.

Coleman also announced a task force, to be headed by Ecolab CEO Doug Baker and Greater MSP’s Michael Langley, to explore the best uses for the Macy’s block and other downtown dead zones.

“In a core downtown that is limited in geography, we have to maximize every opportunity to bring business to downtown,” Coleman said.

And even as the Central Corridor light rail line (now called the Green Line) nears completion, there’s concern that the East Metro and St. Paul might be falling behind in further transit and rail improvements.

So the mayor announced that a revitalized version of the East Metro Transit Alliance, which pushed to make the Green Line happen, will be headed by St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kramer and Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough.

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“One clear lesson we learned as we fought to build the Green Line was that if we in the east metro are not fighting hard for transit investment, we can’t expect anyone else to do it,” Coleman said.

And, to counter complaints that St. Paul isn’t business-friendly, Coleman said officials are working to prepare an online permitting process, where business and residents will be guided through the tortuous permit labyrinth. He said Council President Kathy Lantry and Council Member Amy Brendmoen are spearheading that project.

Another big push for Coleman: attracting and keeping young adults, who he called “the future workforce in our city.”

To stayed tuned in to what these Millenials want, Coleman said he plans a series of sessions at college campuses, to ask students what kinds of the things the city can do to make it an attractive place for them to live and work after graduation.

To conclude his speech, Coleman said:

“I can say with conviction that the state of our city is strong and growing stronger. Our accomplishments over the past several years have been remarkable. We have built a city that is vibrant, safe, welcoming to all residents, friendly to families and a leader on a national stage.

“…Let’s take a moment to enjoy our successes. But let’s keep moving forward. Together we will build on our accomplishments and truly make St. Paul the most livable city in America.”

All indications are that Coleman wants to continue leading those efforts. An official announcement is expected soon about Coleman running for a third term in November (which would mean four more State of the Cities).

With just a little tweaking, Monday’s State of the City could be the germ of that re-election campaign speech.