In a State of the City address that sets the table for his expected bid for a third term, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said Monday that the city’s future depends on expanding transit options and becoming a place where talented young people want to live and work.
The mayor, who spoke to a crowd of city dignitaries and citizens at the Crowne Plaza Riverfront Hotel, said St. Paul is “strong and growing stronger” but that it must continue to become more livable and business-friendly.
In a first step, Coleman will meet Tuesday with college students at Concordia, Macalester and Metropolitan State to find out what they like about St. Paul and what the city can do to make them stay.
“They are risk takers that keep pushing the envelope on what it means to live in a city,” he said.
Coleman is expected to announce soon that he will run for a third term, something no St. Paul mayor has done for 33 years. He is slated to become president of the National League of Cities later this year.
The setting for the speech — the city’s largest hotel, recently purchased by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe — reflected the mayor’s claim that private investment is taking off in St. Paul and “shaping the neighborhood landscape.”
He cited the hotel deal, downtown buildings under renovation, new uses at the old Schmidt and Hamm’s breweries, and Sears’ plans for transit-oriented development as proof that the upcoming Central Corridor light-rail line and other infrastructure projects are already paying dividends.
“People are investing in St. Paul because St. Paul is investing in itself,” he said.
Council members gave Coleman’s speech high marks.
“It was probably the first time since I’ve lived in the city that we’re not bemoaning that we’re second to Minneapolis,” Dave Thune said. “We’re talking about moving forward and I like that.”
But the mayor said the news wasn’t all rosy, for which Council President Kathy Lantry gave him credit. “He did talk about successes, but he also talked about challenges ... we’ve got plenty of work to do,” she said.
Coleman said St. Paul continues to be troubled by an achievement gap between white and minority students, nagging questions about downtown’s future in the wake of Macy’s closing and delays in transit expansion.
He announced that he has asked Ecolab CEO Doug Baker and Greater MSP head Michael Langley to lead a task force on the best uses for vacant downtown sites, including Macy’s, the old West Publishing building and Wabasha Court.
Coleman said the city will push for transit on the Riverview Corridor along W. 7th Street, and is awaiting a study on streetcars. He asked Ramsey County and business leaders to help revive the East Metro Transit Alliance to ensure that the area gets a fair share of regional transit funding.
And he committed St. Paul to an expansion of bike travel for commuting as well as recreation. He said he wants to add bike lanes downtown and expand the Nice Ride bike-sharing program throughout the city. He said he has asked city staff to work on linking the west metro’s Greenway bike trail with the Gateway and Vento trails in the east, creating a “bike super highway” from Excelsior to Stillwater.
“Ease of commuting by bike is a critical component of making our city attractive to a new generation of workers,” he said.
Other initiatives he mentioned: “Right Track,” a partnership with the Youth Job Corps, St. Paul schools, Genesys Works and the business community to get students ready for careers; “Permit St. Paul,” an electronic program to walk entrepreneurs and investors through the often confusing permit process; and “St. Paul Connect,” a mobile app launched Monday to provide information and register complaints about city services.
Roger Meyer, a consultant who briefly ran as a Green Party candidate for mayor, said he welcomed the discussion of more bike paths and a task force to fill downtown vacancies. But he said the mayor should have addressed the city’s poverty gap and what privatizing recreation centers has done to neighborhoods.
“The words are fine — invest in St. Paul — but let’s hold each other accountable,” Meyer said. “The city’s getting stronger depends on what he does next.”