Skyway doors would be locked at midnight rather than 2 a.m. Downtown building owners would need city-approved video surveillance plans for their skyways, and “code of conduct” signs would be posted throughout the skyway system.
Those are some of the stricter rules St. Paul leaders are suggesting to guide how building owners, downtown residents and visitors treat the city’s public skyway system. The rules, proposed at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, are in response to community members’ and business owners’ concerns about skyway safety.
Many people who work and live downtown have said there seems to be more crime, litter and loitering in the approximately 5-mile skyway system. Over the next few weeks, city leaders will hear whether the proposed rules address those concerns — or go too far.
The City Council’s public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Sept. 6.
Disability rights advocates like Darrell Paulsen have already started campaigning against a midnight closure. Paulsen said the skyways provide a critical access point for people in wheelchairs and those with mobility challenges and should remain open all night.
“My hope is that cooler heads will prevail and the city won’t do this kind of action that is prejudicial to the most disadvantaged members of its community,” said St. Paul attorney Bill Tilton, who represents disability rights advocates. He said he believes the city’s ordinance is illegal and if it passes, the city would be sued.
Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who is pushing for the skyway changes along with Mayor Chris Coleman, said she wants to balance the needs of people who use the skyway system and the building owners who help pay for it. The midnight closure seemed like the best compromise, she said.
St. Paul’s skyways are connected along public easements through buildings. Building owners have to pay to keep their property secure, and some say the 2 a.m. closure is onerous.
The challenges facing building owners were in the spotlight earlier this year when Lowertown landlord Jaunae Brooks started locking her skyway doors illegally at 8 p.m.
She told the City Council stories of people sleeping in her building, doing drugs, urinating and littering. Brooks said adding full-time security staff is too expensive.
Bill Hanley, a Lowertown resident and Skyway Governance Advisory Committee member, tried to gauge people’s thoughts on the city’s proposed skyway changes at a community meeting earlier this summer.
“The pitchforks were not out over the idea of midnight,” he said, but people want more predictability about skyway access from outside.
Noecker said she is working with building owners to try to create four designated skyway entry points in downtown. That effort is moving forward separately from the rules ordinance.