Plans to put new luster on Rice Park, St. Paul's small downtown jewel of a public park, are complete.
Now the hard work begins: Raising the estimated $2 million it will cost to turn those plans into reality. The payoff, say friends of St. Paul's oldest public space, will be better lighting, improved safety, more green space and a more welcoming gathering spot for out-of-towners and locals alike.
"It's about enhancing what is there. It is a really, really beautiful park already," said Amy Mino, executive director of Minnesota Landmarks and chairwoman of the Rice Park Association. "What we would like to see is more people using the park area and more people feeling safe that they can explore the park area in all seasons."
This latest movement to revamp Rice Park — the last renovation was finished in 2000 — was sparked by the St. Paul Garden Club, which raised $46,000 in just a few months to pay for planning. The park, set aside as a public commons and grazing pasture in 1849, has benefited from the club's tender loving care since 1927. For the past 20 to 25 years, the garden club's care has been constant "to keep whatever we can alive," said Colleen FitzPatrick, a club member who has helped lead the redesign effort.
One of 200 members of the Garden Clubs of America, the St. Paul Garden Club will be hosting the organization's 2016 annual convention.
"That made us really take a hard look at Rice Park," FitzPatrick said. "That was when we decided 'Oh my gosh, this park needs so much help right now. It is so tired.' "
The club reached out to four University of Minnesota landscape architect graduate students, who created a conceptual plan. That plan grabbed the attention of St. Paul Parks and Recreation, which is hosting its own Parks and Rec convention in 2017, prompting the city to make its own detailed plans. The Rice Park Association, made up of neighboring businesses and nonprofits, became an enthusiastic partner.
"There is a groundswell for this, and people are really excited," FitzPatrick said.
Rice Park long has been recognized as one of the most attractive urban squares in the United States. In 2011 it was named one of the country's top 10 public spaces by the American Planning Association. Bounded by the Landmark Center, the St. Paul Hotel, the Central Library and the Ordway, the park often serves as center stage to St. Paul Winter Carnival events.
Plans call for a large green space at the park's south end, near the library, as well as new lighting, seating and tables and a new paved path. New trees will shade the central square and new gardens, many planted with native plants, will provide seasons of color throughout the 1.6-acre park.
Anne Gardner, a landscape architect and project manager for Parks and Recreation, said the plan completed a six-month process with input from a community design advisory committee. Now, it's time to raise the money.
Half of the $2 million goal has been requested as part of the city's Capital Improvement Budget, she said. The remainder will come from private sources, through grants and giving. Planning for that campaign will start soon, Gardner said.