From public art to park renovations and ambitious plans for the riverfront, the core of St. Paul is gradually developing into a destination for visitors and developers alike, according to the capital city's downtown booster group.

"There can sometimes be a narrative … that there's not a lot going on," said Joe Spencer, president of the St. Paul Downtown Alliance. "But actually, when you really look at all the projects that are under construction or recently completed, and some of the exciting ones that are in development, there really is a ton of investment happening right now in downtown St. Paul."

The Downtown Alliance celebrated its first year on Wednesday with an annual meeting at the newly renovated Osborn370 building. More than 75 people representing downtown businesses and organizations gathered in the building's courtyard to mingle and sip pints from Stacked Deck Brewing Co.

St. Paul launched the nonprofit Downtown Alliance, an organization comparable to Minneapolis' Downtown Council, in February 2018 to attract employers and investors to the capital city. In a city defined by its neighborhoods, downtown is an essential hub, Mayor Melvin Carter told the gathering on Wednesday — though it makes up just 1% of the city's land mass, he said, downtown accounts for 45% of jobs.

"We have momentum in St. Paul that's really exciting, and it's really being led in many ways by downtown," Carter said. "We have a lot of opportunity. We have a lot of growth in front of us."

Part of the Downtown Alliance's mission has been to attract more job-creating businesses to downtown.

"We want to tell businesses about why this is a great place to start or grow your business, and a great place to hire the talented folks that increasingly want to be downtown here in St. Paul," said Chris Hilger, chairman and CEO of Securian Financial and co-chair, with Carter, of the Downtown Alliance board.

Downtown ambassadors

Wednesday's event highlighted the Downtown Alliance's early accomplishments alongside recent and ongoing economic development projects, from a $150,000 pilot program that deployed a team of "ambassadors" to the proposed $788 million Riversedge development on the riverbank site of the former county jail and West Publishing Co. headquarters.

According to the alliance's annual report, 13 real estate projects are under construction downtown and another eight are in development.

Meanwhile, the organization has undertaken smaller-scale changes, including new public art, musical performances, cleanup of graffiti and litter and advocating for city policy changes to make it easier to open a bar or restaurant downtown.

In the coming year, the alliance will continue to court new employers and support development downtown, Spencer said. The organization is also exploring the creation of a special services district, he said, and may look for ways to expand downtown programming into the winter months.

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509