Jaunae Brooks was fed up with people drinking, urinating and sleeping in the halls of her Lowertown building. The St. Paul landlord saw one option to reduce the unwanted visitors, and it meant asking for the city's forgiveness, not permission.
Instead of allowing the public to enter her building through the skyway until 2 a.m., as the city requires, Brooks started illegally locking the doors at 8 p.m.
City Council members voted Wednesday not to grant her forgiveness. They denied her request for an exemption to the city's rules and urged her to add more security instead of blocking people's skyway access.
Brooks' building overlooks Mears Park and is an important exit and entry point for people trying to get to Lowertown, which is a hot spot for visitors and residents, Council Member Rebecca Noecker said.
"I think this is exactly the time when we're going to start to see more traffic both on the streets and in the skyways. And I think this is exactly the wrong time to start to dissect that system," Noecker said.
The debate over Brooks' building is a microcosm of the larger conversation going on in St. Paul. City officials, residents and building owners are trying to figure out how to improve safety in the skyway system without limiting public access.
Unlike Minneapolis, St. Paul's approximately 5-mile network of enclosed walkways is public. The city paid for most of the skyways and, in exchange, requires private property owners to allow people to connect to them between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m.
City leaders recently proposed changes to their skyway regulations, with the goals of ensuring property owners meet certain security requirements and people know what is inappropriate skyway behavior. The city is also considering closing skyways at midnight instead of 2 a.m.
Brooks said the city's requirements for late-night public access threaten her business. She said she has video cameras, and a security guard occasionally stops by, but she cannot afford full-time security staff. She was worried her tenants would leave the building, so she decided to lock up early.
"Since the day the skyway doors were locked at 8 p.m. we haven't had one single incident," said Andrea Wallace, co-owner of a travel agency in Brooks' building.
Brooks said she will continue to lock the doors at 8 p.m., despite Wednesday's City Council vote. A fine from the city is a lot cheaper than cleaning up after people who have been illegally staying in her building, she said.
Some city officials said Brooks' decision creates bigger problems, including inconsistencies for people navigating the skyways. Residents said the early closure creates access issues for people with disabilities who are trying to get to the restaurants like Barrio and Bulldog on the ground floor of Brooks' building. Brooks offered to add a buzzer that would allow restaurant staff to buzz down people who need to use the elevator in her building to access restaurants.
Three City Council members, Chris Tolbert, Amy Brendmoen and Dan Bostrom, were willing to come up with an alternative to help Brooks. The majority on the council was not.