Once upon a time, there was a pedestrian walkway system being laid out within the city of St. Paul, which envisioned, gave to pedestrians, regardless of their destination, a climate controlled pathway.

Over the years these visionaries, in the form of the City of St. Paul and affected property owners, funded skyway systems and developed guidelines and standards for these skyway connections.

As St. Paul continued to develop, however, there were still missing links between the pedestrian connections. With the development of the Lawson Software Building, another major link was contemplated and completed. The majority of downtown had been connected.

The biggest missing pedestrian connection was between the now newly reconstructed RiverCentre and Wild Arena along with the Ordway and Minnesota Club, St. Paul Main Downtown Library, the Hill Library, the Landmark Towers, the St. Paul Hotel and the rest of the connection system, which commenced at the Lowry Building and City Hall Annex.

So, several years ago while I was still on the St. Paul City Council, I developed the refinancing plan for the outstanding Civic Center bonds. With the refinancing, the City of St. Paul would achieve around $8 million for the renovation of the old Civic Center. Of that $8 million, $2 million was set aside for a climate-controlled connection. I originally negotiated for $4 million; so the $2 million became an integral part of the missing financial commitment to build the Rice Park/RiverCentre connection.

The St. Paul Convention and Visitor's Bureau (CVB), under the leadership of Eileen McMahon, always knew the Convention need for a seamless pedestrian connection.

Equally, the Port Authority, under the leadership of Ken Johnson, knew the Business sense of having a seamless pedestrian connection.

Thus, one day Ken, Eileen and I sat down and decided to give the connection one more strong try.

We knew the reasons for the connection among which are:

  • Attracting conventions, currently going to other places with connections, to the tune of millions of dollars annually.
  • Parking venues would be connected not only helping visitors to navigate St. Paul but for the business and employee destination points.
  • The culture which is brought to St. Paul by the Ordway, Roy Wilkins Auditorium and Landmark Center is priceless and the connection would provide an amenity plus encourage people to stay in St. Paul for food and beverages before and after the events.
  • The potential of a renovated civic center offered an enhanced destination venue (remember we met long before the Wild came to St. Paul).
  • The new Science Museum offered a new energy in the seven corners area.
  • The need to connect the libraries and residents with parking.

We also knew the realities of this connection, among which are:

  • Limited space where to build it.
  • The preservation of Rice Park.
  • The historic preservation elements of the St. Paul Main Library and Hill Library as well as the Minnesota Club.
  • The beauty of the Ordway.
  • The need for reinvestment in the old civic center parking ramp.
  • The need to provide security to businesses, residents and employees in the Landmark Towers, US West, etc.
  • The need for a safe, attractive pedestrian facility.
  • We needed to raise money.

Councilmember Dan Bostrom was (is) my immediate ally on the pedestrian connection vision. He felt strongly about the wisdom of the final connection. But we had many hurdles to clear. Eileen did a masterful job of compiling a document with which we could go to the funders.

Dan and I were able to get the rest of the City Council to agree (though not unanimously) conceptually to the connection planning dollars. However, a caveat was $1 million must be raised privately.

We, with Ken and Eileen, then contacted Carl and Jan Kuhrmeyer and Cay and Lowell Hellervik to be a part of our private fundraising effort. One snowy wintry night right before Christmas, the Hellerviks and Kuhrmeyers hosted a party at the Hellerviks to unveil some of the possible schematic scenarios.

Without the coverage of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ron Clark, and Minneapolis Star-Tribune papers, the connection may still only be a wish.

But with the coverage and the tenacity of the fundraising team, we raised $1 million dollars from businesses, foundations and individuals.

We were on our way.

Margot Fehrenbacher of PED was assigned to work on the connection.

Along the way, I left the City Council and successfully won the special election to become Ramsey County Commissioner. The goal of the connection languished in my heart. So, I decided to see if Ramsey County could play a role in the connection.

Ed Warn, of the City's Public Works Department, told me of some potential State Transportation monies, which the County could access but not the City. The advantage of the monies was the very low interest rate.

I met with then Public Works Department Head Paul Kirkwold and Tim Mayasich and we began to pursue the dollars. With the help of Commissioner Reinhardt, who sat on one of the Advisory Committees, and since we were one of the few East Metro proposals, we successfully secured the loan.

The Mayor (Norm Coleman) set a benchmark of a maximum of $10 million for the connection. City Council President Bostrom brought the project to the City Council. It was approved, but not unanimously. I brought it to the Ramsey County Board where the project was passed unanimously.

Unique to this connection is that it combines a new skyway across 4th Street near St. Peter with an underground pedestrian connection traversing west along 4th Street which will be well lit and have the latest in safety amenities as well as design concepts which provide for an open feeling.

The teams began to work in earnest. The tensions and goals were evident. But they did a magnificent job. The Port Authority became Ramsey County's agent to "get the job done".

The bids, when opened, were under the estimates made by the experts. The construction began almost immediately: the next day. At the official groundbreaking on May 11, 2001, there were lots of smiles, congratulations and remembering.

Bottom line for me: I hope to personally thank all those who played a part. Without the private dollars there would be no connection. Without the diligence of the City and County staff, attorneys and elected officials, there would be no connection. Without media coverage, there would be no connection. Without vision and foresight by the CVB, Port Authority, City and County, we would still have a missing link. I am honored to have served with the CVB, Eileen McMahon, the Port Authority, Ken Johnson, the City Council, Council President Dan Bostrom, Lowell and Cay Hellervik, Jan and Carl Kuhrmeyer, PED, Margot Fehrenbacher, Ramsey County, Paul Kirkwold and Tim Mayasich, Dave McMillan, the Mayor's office, Mayor Coleman and Deputy Mayor Susan Kimberly, all the funders and the State of Minnesota, and the construction (union) crews.

When we have our grand opening, all who have worked on the connection will be honored.

Our goal was a safe, accessible pedestrian connection that will be affordable and well-maintained. In the process we also became connected as a TEAM.

Thank you.


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Author: Commissioner Rettman's Office / Information Services