THE CONNECTION IS COMING

By Janice Rettman, Commissioner

I am delighted the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved our involvement in constructing "the missing link" of the St. Paul downtown pedestrian connections. I am equally pleased the City of St. Paul, the Mayor, and City Council approved the plan, which Ramsey County set forth to the City.

I first became involved with the pedestrian Connection some six years ago as a Saint Paul City Councilmember. Shortly after that time and with the help of George McMahon, I brought forth a re-financing of the Civic Center bonds, which allowed the City Council (which included now Commissioner Guerin) to set aside two million dollars for the Connection construction plus interest.

A climate controlled pedestrian Connection is sometimes a skyway, an underground passageway, or a combination of stairways, elevators, skyways, and passageways. This particular Connection provides opportunities to connect the RiverCentre and MN Wild Hockey arena with the Minnesota Club, the St. Paul Central Library, the J.J. Hill Library, the Ordway, and U.S. West to the Landmark Towers and the rest of the skyway system!!!!

To me, a pedestrian Connection is a vehicle of choice for the resident, worker, or visitor in Saint Paul. Frankly, I view pedestrian connections as accommodations to encourage people to enjoy working, shopping, living, parking, and visiting our core downtown area which then helps the economy of the rest of the County.

Without a Connection, downtown St. Paul and Ramsey County currently loses convention and visitor venues which otherwise could be spending time and money in our area. Connections are essential in marketing our area as a destination venue especially in the wintertime.

Knowing that over the past 30 years there had been hundreds of thoughts on the possible Connection route, Ken, Eileen and I met to create what I affectionately call the 10 commandments of connecting the RiverCentre to Landmark Towers. Thou shalt not disrupt or disturb Rice Park. Thou shalt not infringe or detract from historical buildings. Thou shalt not hinder the beauty of the Ordway or other vistas. Thou shalt not detract from people walking the sidewalks and the pedestrian traffic into businesses and work places. Thou shalt not close any streets. Thou shall provide a better security system for the Landmark Tower residents and employees. Thou shall connect parking venues and hotel and restaurant venues so that you can leave a coat in your car, office, home, or hotel room and move freely to the downtown venues and destination points. ETC.

We always wanted the Connection to be safe, affordable and not using property tax dollars. This Connection shall cost 10 million or less and is financed without one property tax dollar.

We drew up our vision and gave it to our Michael Jordan with Windsor Faircy (SMMA) who made it look beautiful. The Hellerviks and Kuhrmeyers hosted a party for the unveiling of plans for the Connection with me and Dan Bostrom fielding questions. The final layout of the Connection was determined by the City Council after the Science Museum decided to not connect to the Connection at this time.

There are many, many people and staff to thank for their efforts and diligence in this matter. Eileen McMahon and the staff of the CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) did a fantastic job of articulating the advantages of the Connection. Members of the CVB Board like Jaye Rykunyk, Dick Anfang, Bruce Chessin (Holiday Inn East), John Zavada (Ramada North), Bill Buth, (BOMA), Dick Zehring (RiverCentre) all came to testify at meetings and were tireless in their efforts to show the need for a Connection. Eileen is enthusiastic and creative.

Ken Johnson and the Port Authority staff were brilliant in their analysis, commitment, and in protecting all of the fiduciary responsibilities of the governmental entities. Ken is a great partner.

The Public Works staff of both Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul worked tirelessly on the details in putting together a plan for the Transportation Revolving Loan fund. Paul Kirkwold (now Acting County Manager), Tim Mayasich, and Ed Warn standout as truly staff who are trying to think out of the box, be creative, and protect the taxpayer.

Margot Fehrenbacher of St. Paul PED and her team of consultants worked exceedingly hard to make the Connection aesthetically pleasing, safe, affordable, and welcoming.

Chair Ortega of the Ramsey County Board and Kathy Lantry of the St. Paul City Council both served on the CVB and helped shepherd the Connection. Commissioner Reinhardt, sitting on the TAB, helped enormously making the Transportation Revolving Loan Fund work for others as well as Ramsey County.

Council President Dan Bostrom had made the Connection one of his priorities when he was elected to the City Council. He’s been tireless in his efforts at the City Council and the Civic Center Authority meetings to achieve the Connection.

The budget wizards headed up by Jim Van Houdt (County), Joe Reid (City), Laurie Hansen (Port Authority), and Kathy Aho of Springstead continue to work with the attorneys on the final details so that the Connection will commence construction in spring 2000.

Special thanks go to two citizen teams – Carl & Jan Kuhrmeyer and Lowell & Cay Hellervik. Along with Eileen, Ken, Dan, and me, we all set out to raise one million dollars of private moneys for the Connection. NSP, Lawson Software, Radisson Worldwide, St. Paul Foundation, St. Paul Port Authority, etc., made substantial contributions to the Connection. We are hopeful to have the one million dollars committed by the end of 1999. We are nearing the $950,000 mark as I write this article.

To me, the Connection represents a myriad of people who care about time and money being spent in St. Paul and Ramsey County.

But even more, the Connection will provide an option to people when it's cold or rainy outside and you just want to be warm.

Special recognition and deep thanks goes to the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Editorial Pages and personally to Ron Clark who stimulated interest in solutions to the missing pedestrian link.

Finally and personally, I am proud to have worked on the Connection. I fervently believe that the financing of the Connection is both fiscally prudent and financially sound. I believe that just the convention and visitors trade will generate millions on top of millions of dollars over the years because of the Connection and thus provide more economic revenues to the rest of Ramsey County. I am proud of the support by all of the County Commissioners and the Ramsey County and St. Paul staff who made the project sing. I am proud the majority of City Council members and the Mayor supported the Connection. I have so delighted in the opportunity to work with Ken, Dan, Eileen, the Kuhrmeyers and Hellerviks for the good of Ramsey County and Saint Paul.

And I hope that when the missing link is opened, you too will be proud of the step Ramsey County took to build the CONNECTION!

P.S. If you are interested in contributing to the 501c3 Connection fund, call Eileen directly at the Convention and Visitors Bureau @ 651-265-4900.

 

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