Look, I get it. Some real estate people think investing in downtown St. Paul is more vexing than a bad poker hand.
News flash: They’re wrong. In spades.
I can’t say this strongly enough: The art of the possible ripens into reality when we believe in it.
Yes, there are many who simply say, “It can’t happen here.”
Tell that to Exeter Realty, PAK Properties, Todd Geller and David Brooks, among others. They have invested in properties downtown and across St. Paul because they see true value and opportunity for growth.
And employers including Ecolab, Securian Financial, Frauenshuh Cos. and Ackerberg Group have doubled down on St. Paul real estate and look forward to capitalizing on ensuing growth in this city.
They are successful in part because, unlike others, they are playing their hands. They invest in the gap between perceived value and true value, just as a wise card player is fairly confident that the strong hand she’s holding will grow in value when the next cards are dealt.
If that sounds like too much of a gamble, consider this: When I was on the development team at the Saint Paul Port Authority, working on the Treasure Island Center project, we found that leasing prospects most readily considering tenancy were those from outside this region.
What’s up with that? Well, they heard “capital city,” “professional hockey team,” “concert center,” “downtown airport,” “well-educated populace,” and said, “Sign me up.”
AECOM said exactly that. The Los Angeles-based multinational engineering firm, high in the Fortune 500 ranking with 87,000 employees, has entered into a development agreement with Ramsey County at the old West Publishing site along the St. Paul downtown river bluff. Its development team has proposed an extraordinary vision for Riversedge, as they’ve dubbed it.
The engineering firm has invested significant resources and many months in the plan and is negotiating with the railroads to devise an expansive “lid” that connects downtown to the Mississippi River. The elegant project includes plans for four buildings for housing, retail, class A office space and parking to support it all.
I am not naive. I understand that a visionary project like Riversedge is a long way from ribbon-cutting. But I also understand that St. Paul’s growth is based on supply economics: Build it and they will come. That’s a bit of a hard sell, to be sure. But they WILL come.
The timing is good for something great to happen in St. Paul. We have city leadership invested in business growth, including a charismatic mayor who is becoming well-known nationally. We have a Port Authority whose staff is extraordinarily talented and understands the economics of new development in St. Paul. We have a newly created Downtown Alliance led by an impressive private sector in partnership with the city. We have one of the strongest construction markets in the country right here in our backyard.
And, please remember, some of the most powerful businesses in the country have headquarters here, permeating the Fortune 500.
It’s time to get out of our own way and, instead, help. How can we help promote AECOM’s plans for Riversedge? How can we help promote the opportunity to develop the space above and around Central Station at Fourth and Cedar Streets, one of the largest and busiest light rail stations along the Green Line? How can we partner more closely with the state’s Department of Administration as it is thinking strategically and progressively about growing its real estate future downtown?
Take a look at other solid development projects underway in St. Paul, too many to list here, quietly underway while some investors still insist that new development “can’t happen here.”
Don’t take that for an answer, particularly if you’re among the ones saying it. Instead, challenge that assumption and believe in the art of the possible.
B Kyle is president and CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, the first woman to lead the chamber in its more than 150-year history.