TPT's drive to remodel St. Paul HQ gets a big boost

The good news kept coming for downtown as Public Television announced it's well on its way to the funding needed for the project.

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A sketch of a new street-level entrance to a remodeled TPT headquarters.

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Downtown St. Paul enjoyed a second day of good news Friday, when Twin Cities Public Television announced it had raised more than half of the money needed to renovate its downtown headquarters.

The renovation will expand TPT from its skyway location down to the street level, with a bright new entrance and public space offering entertainment, community meeting space and children's activities.

TPT has raised $20 million of the $30 million needed for the building facelift and other projects, its president, Jim Pagliarini, announced Friday. The TPT expansion was one of St. Paul's top priorities for bonding funds from the Legislature this year. The city's top priority, a new St. Paul Saints ballpark, got the green light Thursday.

TPT headquarters is three blocks away from the ballpark and a block away from the light-rail line being built between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

"We think this is an important project," said Cecile Bedor, director of St. Paul's Planning and Economic Department. "It's a block away from where light-rail will start. Union Depot [across the street from TPT] is under construction. The Lofts, a new housing development, is complete. We just got the ballpark money.

"This really builds on the momentum for Lowertown."

It also builds on momentum that TPT hopes to generate as it marks its second decade in downtown St. Paul. One of the nation's largest public television networks, with more than 1 million viewers each month, it launched a $30 million fundraising campaign in 2010 to try to position itself for the decades ahead -- on the air, online and on the ground.

Bringing light to Lowertown

The renovated headquarters, with a new entrance on Fourth Street, was designed to attract public visitors, as well as add some light to a rather dark section of Lowertown, the east side of downtown St. Paul, Pagliarini said.

A large glass foyer inside the building is expected to host concerts, hands-on activities for children, exhibit space for artists and more. A circular staircase will lead to the skyway level, where passersby can look through new glass walls and check out local programming -- think "Almanac" -- or watch a "video wall" showing the best of PBS and TPT.

"You can peek in and get a sense of a media organization with a lot of activity," said Pagliarini.

That's hardly the case today. TPT is nearly invisible to the public, tucked away in a skyway headquarters. That reflects the old-school notion that TV stations relate to their customers in their living rooms, said Pagliarini. That has changed, as viewers want to interact with the station on their iPhones, iPads, home computers, on the street and in their cars.

"In 2008, we spent $60,000 on interactive media," said the TPT president. "This year we will spend $700,000."

Roughly a quarter of the funds raised will go toward interactive media and programming, Pagliarini said. About 60 percent will fund the building renovations.

"The way media is made is changing; the way people use media is changing," said Pagliarini, addressing a crowd of about 200 supporters Friday night at an event announcing the milestone in fundraising.

"We must change to meet the people where they are."

Fundraising goes public

Pagliarini said that raising $20 million over the past two years "exceeded my expectations." He credited the campaign's success to some initial grants of $1 million-plus that sparked other donations. Those early grants came from the General Mills Foundation, Cargill Foundation, Medtronic Foundation and Huss Foundation of St. Paul.

The biggest grant, $3.5 million, was from the Atlantic Philanthropies in New York.

TPT now moves into the "public phase" of its campaign. It will be soliciting seven-figure donations from the key supporters among its 85,000 members. There will be no soliciting on TV programs, however. That's for membership drives.

Pagliarini, who lives in Lowertown, said he believes the project design fits well with the redevelopment goals for the downtown neighborhood.

"There's new restaurants and bars, a new farmers market," he said. "It's finally gaining traction. It's been a long journey."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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