A more than 100-year-old legal document has St. Paul City Hall and a Summit Avenue property owner trying to figure out who pays for a new $1 million staircase and retaining wall. The historic stairwell threads the bluff from downtown up to Summit Avenue. The entry point up top is adjacent to the J.J. Hill House. A century ago, the property owner gave the city an easement but agreed to foot the bill for the stairs. The James J. Hill mansion is at right.
After a dispute stretching nearly 10 years, the St. Paul City Council agreed last week to a plan with private homeowners to fix a crumbling retaining wall along an outdoor public stairway built more than a century ago by railroad magnate James J. Hill.
The stairway, which connects Summit Avenue to downtown St. Paul, runs between Hill’s mansion (now a historic site) and a house that was built for his son Louis and is now owned by Richard and Nancy Nicholson.
St. Paul asked Hill to build the stairs in 1901 after agreeing to his request to vacate Walnut Street between the properties.
Under last week’s resolution, the Nicholsons will pay the city $82,400 for current repairs and transfer their ownership of parts of the wall to the city, leaving St. Paul responsible for future upkeep. The homeowners also get easement privileges.
After St. Paul repaired the wall in 2008 but only paid a fourth of the $183,000 cost, the Nicholsons told the city that they wanted an agreement.