Projects to encourage economic growth in St. Paul neighborhoods, beautify a vacant lot in the downtown core and even explore bridging a freeway to heal a bisected community were awarded funding by the Knight Foundation in St. Paul on Monday.

The nine projects received more than $640,000 to help create a vibrant, inclusive St. Paul and reflect "a growing recognition that a thriving city is defined and led by its community," foundation officials said.

The idea is to give creative and talented people an incentive to stay in the city and encourage residents to participate in civic life, said Jai Winston, the new Knight Foundation program director in St. Paul.

"The creative energy and appetite for positive change in St. Paul is palpable," Winston said. "These projects aim to tap into this momentum, engaging the community in innovative projects that aim to connect diverse residents and seek their input into programs that will make the city an even better place to live and work."

The projects were announced Monday afternoon during a ceremony to introduce and welcome Winston at the James J. Hill Center near Rice Park. They include:

• Transit for Livable Communities' Friendly Streets Initiative, with Rondo Avenue Inc., received $99,500 to launch "ReConnectRondo," which will work to create a bridge over Interstate 94 to reconnect the neighborhood.

Fifty years ago, construction of the freeway through the center of the tight-knit black community led to homes being torn down and a loss of neighborhood vitality.

The idea is to cover part of the interstate with a land bridge that could hold shops, homes and parkland.

• St. Paul Chamber of Commerce Foundation received $75,000 to begin the process of transforming a vacant lot and skyway adjacent to the Central Station on the Green Line into a temporary plaza. Project partners include the Building Owners and Managers Association, St. Paul, Metro Transit and the Musicant Group. The goal is to design the space to help to connect people from diverse backgrounds and enhance the city's vibrancy.

• A $60,000 grant to the James J. Hill Center will help create a new director of programming position to curate activities that engage entrepreneurs and civic groups.

• Can Can Wonderland, featuring an artist-designed 18-hole mini-golf course and programs to connect diverse residents, received $75,000 to increase vibrancy in St. Paul's Creative Enterprise Zone.

Other projects receiving funds are intended to keep innovators and entrepreneurs in St. Paul's Creative Enterprise Zone, as well as attract new ones, and connect new residents to local events and programming through an interactive online forum. Another is working to promote the development of a new park in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.

The $642,500 from Knight is part of more than $64 million given to St. Paul community initiatives since 1977.

The James S. and James L. Knight Foundation is a national foundation that invests in journalism, the arts and in the success of cities where the Knight brothers once published newspapers.

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