St. Paul’s new Dorothy Day Center will be built near its current downtown location rather than at an East Side site that had proved controversial with many neighbors.
Mayor Chris Coleman, who announced the change Monday, said that the urgent need for better facilities for the poor and homeless made it more important to move the location than take the time to resolve concerns from the East Side.
Officials worried that vocal community opposition could derail efforts to win crucial legislative backing this session for the $64 million complex, which includes $22 million in state general obligation bonds and $17 million in housing infrastructure bonds.
“The number one goal has always been to move as quickly as we could, to serve people in a more dignified manner than we are currently,” Coleman said. “We can fight till the cows come home, but this helps us get results quicker.”
As recently as last week, officials with the city and Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis were touting the East Side site near Railroad Island, saying it offered the best combination of proximity to downtown, transit and other agencies, along with the needed acreage and availability.
But at a Dayton’s Bluff Community Council committee meeting, residents and business owners told Catholic Charities CEO Tim Marx that locating Dorothy Day there could set back efforts to turn around the local economy and reshape the East Side — often stereotyped as down-on-its-heels and crime-ridden — into one of the city’s most booming and vibrant districts.
Marx said then that it might be logistically difficult and more expensive to build on the current site, “but also not impossible.”
On Monday, he said that while the East Side site had “a lot of advantages … we don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the very good. We determined that we can make the current site work very well for the community and become very excited about it.”
East Side leaders said they were gratified by the decision.
“It was a demonstration of democracy at work, but the real victory will come from securing resources to help end homelessness,” said Leslie McMurray, executive director of the Payne Phalen Planning Council, which had recommended a different site.
The Dayton’s Bluff Community Council, which had planned to vote on the issue at Monday’s meeting, instead will discuss the problem of homelessness itself.
“Now we have time to have the broader conversation, and we’re glad about that,” said Executive Director Deanna Abbott-Foster.
Marx said that the new center will be designed to provide maximum services without exposing clients to the stares of passersby. The former labor building at 411 Main St., which is for sale, could become part of the site, he said.
Some have suggested the East Side site was promoted by downtown businesses interested in developing the current site near the Xcel Energy Center. St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kramer denied that and said that some downtown businesses that regularly volunteer at Dorothy Day had complained about the inconvenience of the East Side site.
“I genuinely believe that had we been able to look at [the East Side site] as a multiyear effort, people would have come around,” Kramer said. “But we just don’t have time. This is too important to put off for another year.”