Before a smattering of noontime walkers swiftly on their way to lunch, Ross Hackenmiller, also known as the Minnesota Iceman, energetically did his part to pump a little good cheer into the skyway bridge above the Green Line’s Central Station.
Belting out the Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me,” the singer and guitarist on Wednesday headlined the first of a series of May lunchtime concerts dedicated to bringing a little positivity to a spot in the skyway system that has seen its share of trouble.
One or two scurrying listeners at a time.
The low numbers in the skyway on a sunny day didn’t really bother Max Musicant, who offers doughnuts and coffee on Mondays and Fridays to go along with the Wednesday concerts in May. He said it’s part of a series of “pop-up” events near the Central Station that he hopes will create a positive vibe in a space that’s been ghost town quiet at best and intimidating at worst.
“What we found is that a positive chases away the negative,” said Musicant, whose Musicant Group hosted a winter solstice celebration in December near the Central Station featuring games and hot cocoa. “I think there are lots of opportunities to create a neighborhood experience in the skyways.”
The project’s aim is to temporarily transform an undeveloped block that’s become known as a conduit for trouble into the skyway via the station’s elevator. Musicant’s group, along with the city, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and Metro Transit, is working to dispel images of the bad, he said.
So, on Friday, Kerry’s Donut Bites, a small St. Paul bakery that specializes in handcrafted doughnut holes and doughnuts, will be serving up fresh doughnuts and coffee from 7 to 10 a.m. near the Central Station skyway elevator every Monday and Friday in May.
“Thousands of people live and work around here,” Musicant said. “We want to make it fun and appealing.”
As Hackenmiller strummed, three Metro Transit police officers stood and watched near the elevator that rises from the Central Station. Metro Transit is not only supportive of Musicant’s efforts, said spokesman Howie Padilla. It’s an enthusiastic partner.
“When you look at our stations and you look at our bus stops, they are kind of our front porches,” Padilla said. “If people have a good experience, or if they have a challenging experience, word gets around fast. This is a way to make riders’ first impressions better.”
Back in February 2015, a spike in skyway robberies and assaults had downtown business owners nervous and skyway-goers on edge. In response, St. Paul and Metro Transit police beefed up their downtown presence.
But, Padilla said, “No one is going to police themselves out of this. The best thing is to give this area some life, give it a sense of community. Go back to the idea of the front porch, where neighbors sit around and talk and get to know each other. This helps us do that.”
Rebecca Noecker, the St. Paul City Council member who represents downtown, stopped by over the noon hour. She said she believes that the best way to make people feel safe in the skyways is to create a vibrant and fun climate.
“It really doesn’t take much to make a difference,” she said, adding that she hopes Musicant’s efforts serve as a pilot project for more permanent activities to be hosted here.
“Anything positive that happens down here is great to see,” Noecker said.