2014 State of the City Address Remarks


Thank you Kathy for that great introduction, and to the City Councilmembers for all of your hard work. And thank you to Barely Brothers Records, who provided the music this morning—they just opened their vinyl record shop in Saint Anthony Park last weekend.

I also want to take a minute to thank DeShaun. He is such an impressive young man, and I am truly looking forward to meeting him again as CEO of his own company after he earns his engineering degree. Thank you, DeShaun, for sharing the momentum of Saint Paul, and being an example of hard work and perseverance for us all.

Saint Paul’s history is rich. We’re a city that’s grown from steamboats, to railroads, to streetcars, to light rail. From one-room schoolhouses hosting largely the children of German, Irish and Swedish immigrants, to educating 39,000 students who speak more than 100 languages. From a single public library, funded by a civic-minded railroad tycoon, to 13 libraries across the city being used in ways unimaginable in Jim Hill’s time.

Each step of our history has contributed to where our next foot falls.

We embrace our past. But we seize on the momentum of today to build a better tomorrow.

We see this progression in Lowertown. Once an industrial engine of Saint Paul, it has grown into the vibrant center of our city. Historic buildings, once housing manufacturing, are now home to artists and others filled with a passion for urban living. New bars and restaurants are filled each night. Soon, the regional ballpark will draw thousands more to Lowertown on warm summer evenings. By blending our history with new possibilities, we have created a unique community filled with endless possibilities.

The renewed enthusiasm for Lowertown is also seen across the city, including here on the East Side. The neighbors that gather for a beer or a bite to eat at Ward 6 are a mix of folks – some whose families have been on the East Side for generations and some who have just discovered the potential of this great historic community.

Always a crossroad for diverse cultures and a portrait of our complex and changing world, in the last several decades the Payne-Phalen neighborhood has become a hallmark for how we as a city must grow. Our efforts could not be more apparent than here in the Arlington Hills Community Center.

When it opens, this community center will be a cornerstone of the neighborhood, providing opportunities for our children and families to thrive. The doors to this community center will be doors of opportunity for all who enter. And it will be ground zero for our work to close the achievement gap.

Almost a decade in the making, this center is a $14 million investment in the future of the East Side. What was once a corner anchored by a small hardware store and an obsolete 1970s-era rec center will soon be a center of innovative learning and youth development. Collaboration between two city departments – Saint Paul Public Library and Parks and Recreation – is creating new possibilities for serving our residents. Beyond sharing space, the staff will be culturally effective and trained not only in racial equity work but in new ways to engage youth and expand and design programming around input they receive.

I recently toured this facility. The excitement of staff is infectious. They couldn’t wait to tell me all the creative ways they are coming up with to do things differently. When the doors to this center open in May, it will truly be a game changer for the children and families in this community.

I want to thank Kit Hadley and Mike Hamm, the directors of libraries and parks, for their tireless efforts to make this center possible.

One way we will make this project even better is through community input and awareness. Today, Saint Paul Public Library launches an awareness campaign with the theme: Because of the Library. The public awareness campaign, inspired by real library users, aims to educate our residents on the diverse uses they can get out of the library- whether that be learning a language, how to use social media, preparing for the SAT or learning to write a resume. If you’re twitter savvy, use the hashtag #Becauseofthelibrary to promote their cause. This campaign celebrates how Saint Paul learns and thrives—because of the library.

The Saint Paul Public Library is one of the best examples of a department that never stops moving. Google, in fact, found them so impressive that they created a video about how the Saint Paul Public Library saw a need in the community – in this case teaching new immigrants how to understand and navigate a computer—and altered their programming based on what was needed. You can check it out on YouTube, called “Sharing More Than Books.” It is this track record of innovation that gives me great confidence in the future of the Arlington Hills Community Center.

Much of my work these past eight years has been focused on changing outcomes for our children. We know that successful children have always been the key to a truly successful city.

We’ve built diverse partnerships of committed individuals, community organizations, schools and teachers, businesses and more to just that end, resulting in the continuing work of our Sprockets and Promise Neighborhood initiatives.

But we also know a key part of success is creating opportunities for our children to learn real-world skills and earn real-world wages. We know that youth who have more exposure to the workforce are better prepared and more successful in their careers.

Just last week, our state economist predicted that soon, there will be more jobs than people able to fill them as our current workforces ages and retires. Our mission, then, becomes even more urgent.

Last week, I was at another rec center, Oxford, to witness the job fair for youth summer employment. I was so moved by the hundreds, if not thousands, of young people who showed up seeking a summer job.

Since 2004, Saint Paul has hired nearly 500 youth per year to work in Parks, Libraries, and nonprofit organizations. Last year, we launched “Right Track,” placing high school students with at least one year of work experience with local companies. It provides a pipeline of opportunity that builds skills over several years. In the first year, a child might work at a park or a library. In the second, perhaps that same child will find a summer internship with Ecolab. In the third summer, the same student might have capstone summer doing advanced IT at 3M.

While modest in numbers its first year, it proved a great success. 95 percent of the 21 youth completed their internships and as a group brought home more than $50,000 in wages.

This year, we are ramping up the program. It is a partnership between the city, Genesys Works, Saint Paul Public Schools, the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and numerous community-based organizations and businesses across Saint Paul. Beyond creating opportunities for work experience, Right Track provides career-readiness training and coaching as well as a full summer of authentic work experience in a professional setting, helping us to grow our future workforce from within.

Youth from households with incomes below the poverty level are eligible. This makes the wages they earn particularly meaningful to them and their families.

I want to recognize US Bank, Ecolab, Allegra Printing and the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce for their leadership, the Saint Paul Public Schools for their committed partnership and the many new business partners who have signed up this summer. Thanks to several foundations, including the Pohlad Foundation, the Saint Paul Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the F.R. Bigelow Foundation that are making it possible for nonprofits and small businesses to also offer professional work experiences this summer by partially underwriting these new jobs.

While we work to create opportunities for our teens who are on the right track, we can’t forget about the ones who have found themselves on unsteady ground.

Last summer, my office and the Saint Paul Police Department partnered with the YWCA to launch a trial project to reduce youth crime and redirect the lives of our teenagers who need it.

We hired skilled, culturally specific youth workers to spend time on the streets during weekends and evenings, where they spoke with youth and made referrals to service organizations and programs.

The pilot program ran from July to September. In those three months alone, youth workers spoke to 236 young people. They connected them with educational, social and employment services.

The results were phenomenal.

In those three months, youth arrests for serious crimes fell 43 percent. Youth arrests for less serious crimes fell 37 percent. Serious crime fell 21 percent overall.

With a nearly $200,000 grant from the state and significant private fundraising underway, we are quadrupling our efforts. This year, we are expanding the program citywide and bringing Neighborhood House, Saint Paul Youth Services, 180 Degrees, our Parks and Recreation department, and Saint Paul Public Library to our partner list.

Community ambassadors, made up of youth workers, will spend time in areas where we see increases in youth crime. They will do both outreach and intervention, talking to teens and stopping gang affiliations before they start.

The city will expand hours at seven recreation centers across Saint Paul, including here at Arlington Hills, where staff will be trained in youth development techniques and engage the youth they serve directly in planning and implementing new programs. We’ll create dedicated youth jobs, and form individual plans for each teen based on their needs.

And we’ll utilize a case management data system so we know where we are successful and who still needs help.

Finally, as we adults work hard to understand the complex needs of our youth, especially our most troubled ones, we want to make sure we hear from youth in their own voices. So we’ve asked Soul Touch Productions to engage youth from these neighborhoods in creating media that tells us in their words what they see now in their lives and their hopes and aspirations for their futures. Thank you to Robin Hickman for creating this outlet for our teens.

I want to personally thank Deputy Mayor Paul Williams for his work on this initiative. Paul has been a leader, not just in this area, but for the entire City of Saint Paul. Paul has been an invaluable asset to my office these last three years, and while I wish him well in his next post, he will be sorely missed.

Quite frankly, we have a lot going on in Saint Paul. We have worked hard to cultivate a vibrant culture where people want to live and businesses want to locate. In every corner of Saint Paul, there are telltale signs of a city on the move. The tracks are down and the Central Corridor/ Green Line is only 10 weeks from opening. The Lowertown Ballpark is under construction. The Penfield is filling with residents. Lunds grocery store opens in six weeks. Construction of the Schmidt Artist Lofts, the West Side Flats, the Rayette Lofts, the Pioneer-Endicott project and more are all underway.

Last week, a taskforce headed by Ecolab’s CEO Doug Baker and Greater MSP’s head Michael Langley delivered a stunning vision of what is possible for Saint Paul. While the ideas generated by the taskforce were bold, the most exciting thing about it is the conversation it generated. While people might have called such a plan for downtown Saint Paul far-fetched just a few years ago, today they simply ask, “How soon can we make this happen?” Developers who once scoffed at the idea of building in Saint Paul now are scrambling to be a part of our momentum.

While many great things have happened in our city recently, we have to keep our foot on the gas. We will continue to value community input while working hard to eliminate obstacles to development. And we will aggressively pursue every opportunity to keep the momentum going.

A key to maintaining momentum is our continued commitment to the arts.

Go to any city in this country with a thriving cultural scene and you’ll be visiting a city with a vibrant economy that is attracting not only millennials, but the companies of the future.

We’ve built a great arts culture. With the Ordway, McNally Smith, the Fitzgerald, Penumbra, Teatro Del Pueblo and more, no one can deny that Saint Paul values its arts. Venues such as Bedlam Theater and the new Park Square, events like Music in Mears, JazzFest, the art crawl—all are a part of our rich cultural scene.

The recent gift from the Knight Foundation of $8 million to support arts and artists in Saint Paul will exponentially accelerate all of the cultural activities across our city. When joined by the reopened Palace Theatre, we will, without question, have an arts and cultural scene to rival any city in the country.

The Palace Theatre has sat empty far too many years. Originally built in 1916 as a vaudeville house, it will conservatively host 60 to 90 shows a year, bringing hundreds of thousands of new people into downtown on a regular basis - boosting restaurants, bars, nightlife and activity downtown.

But this isn’t about just about having great concerts in a historic venue – though that will be really cool. It is about economic vitality. If you want to create jobs, create the kind of communities where companies want to grow. Build the communities that attract the talented workers those companies need. In numerous conversations with business owners about where they want to locate, I have been repeatedly told that their employees are looking for places where there is great transportation, housing convenient to work and great places to go after work. This is what we are creating here in Saint Paul. Whether the Palace or the Amsterdam, the Ordway or Bedlam, these places create vibrancy in our city that makes the vision released by the task force last week a reality.

I’m thankful for the support of the Governor, our legislative delegation, our business community and residents for supporting the Palace and other key projects for our city.

I’m thrilled with Saint Paul’s momentum. But I continue to be troubled by the challenges that far too many of our residents face on a daily basis. As we move the city forward, we should always be mindful to consider the needs of our most vulnerable members of our community.

We need to create a city that works for all. That is why building an effective way to address homelessness in our city is among our most important work.

On any given night, across the U.S., more than 57,000 men and women who served our country and protected our freedoms find themselves without a home. It is nothing short of shameful.

At the end of 2013, Phoenix became the first American city to end veteran homelessness in their community. Salt Lake City followed shortly after.

In January, I partnered with Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges in an effort to end veteran homelessness in the Twin Cities in 2015. I want Minneapolis and Saint Paul to be the next community in the country to make sure no one who served our country has to sleep on the streets of our city.

A critical element to solving veterans’ homelessness is rebuilding the Dorothy Day Center.

In December, we unveiled a ReVision of the Dorothy Day Center. It includes building two new facilities. One is patterned after Higher Ground in Minneapolis and will offer overnight shelter to those who have no place else to go. Instead of mats on the ground, people will be offered bunks where they can have some privacy, store their belongings, and sleep comfortably for the night. On the floor just above the shelter will be “pay for stay” bunks where people can secure a spot and store their belongings for a week at a time for $7 a night. That money will be saved for them use as a damage deposit when they find a place to live. Three floors above that will include various kinds of permanent housing designed especially for those who have di ficulty living away from the support of a shelter environment. People who arrive at the shelter will literally see a better future for themselves just upstairs.

A second building, the Connections Center, will offer clients the tools necessary to move beyond homelessness-- meals, job training and job opportunities, health care and more. Our intent is not just to offer a safe place to sleep, but a strategy to move beyond homelessness.

While we continue to build on the energy in our neighborhoods and our downtown, we must make sure we’re creating a city worthy of being named after a saint.

Three weeks ago, I was on the Google campus, driving a “driverless” car, and the experience was both terrifying and eye-opening. Technology is changing so much in our lives—the ways and speed at which we communicate, how we view our homes, businesses and our streets. And it is changing quickly.

Our transportation systems must be capable of rapid change as well.

Ten weeks from now, the first passenger train on the Green Line will roll out of the Union Depot. That will be a great day in Saint Paul.

But the advent of light rail cannot be the end of our transit discussions- it must be a precipice from which we launch continuing efforts across the East Metro.

Having connected Saint Paul to Minneapolis and the west metro through the Green Line, we must now push forward on other critical connections: the Gateway line to the east to the Saint Croix River Bridge, Riverview to the airport and Mall of America, Robert Street to the south into Dakota County, Red Rock to the southeast to Hastings, and Rush Line to the north. Some of them will likely be bus rapid transit; others will be streetcar or LRT; others may be some combination. While the federally prescribed process for evaluating the best option for each of these lines seems long and arduous, we are making good progress—and the excitement around the Green Line opening is proof positive that it’s all worth it.

If we are going to continue to pursue our transit goals, the East Metro must be united in partnership.

Last year, we launched East Metro Strong—an organization made up of local governments, chambers of commerce, community groups and developers from Ramsey, Washington and Dakota Counties - to work as a team and create a transit-competitive region. Together, we will look at the tools necessary to facilitate transit investment in the East Metro. Some cities will need to adopt land use plans that will allow for growth around potential transit corridors. As a region, we will advocate to make sure the East Metro receives its fair share of transit investment in the metro area. I look forward to our work together.

Another critical part of the future of transit is biking. More and more, people are depending on alternatives to cars. Bikeways are as important to them as my first set of car keys were to me.

At the beginning of the year, we released an ambitious bikeways plan for the future of Saint Paul. Among others, the plan included proposals to double our bicycling network to 358 miles, complete the “Grand Round” loop trail to provide a path around the city, and construct a 1.7 mile loop through downtown that would connect Lowertown, the ballpark and Union Depot to the Science Museum, Xcel Center and the Children’s Museum in downtown. The loop would also connect to the great regional trails like the Gateway, Bruce Vento and Sam Morgan trails.

Our efforts can’t be just to be bike-friendly. We must be as innovative and forward-thinking as our bike riders, who want both a way to experience Saint Paul’s scenery as well as effective trails to get to work, shops, and parks.

I can’t talk about transit this year without mentioning potholes. It is not news to any of us that this year’s winter was unprecedented. I want to thank Rich Lallier and his our public works staff for their Herculean efforts against all Mother Nature had to offer. The incredibly harsh winter and extended freeze/thaw cycle has left potholes everywhere – often re-opening holes we’ve already filled—and our public works crews are working day in and day out to fill them. Saint Paul is an old city, and in many places, our street infrastructure is just as old. It’s clear that some streets are beyond the point where even normal winters don't render them obstacle courses.

In the short-term, I have directed Public Works to call back laid off street service workers and concentrate these resources on our immediate pothole issues. In the coming months I will be working with public works, Council, and our Office of Financial Services to identify additional resources to reconstruct priority streets.

But we also need long-term solutions to tackle the overwhelming needs of our deteriorating infrastructure. Reconstructing the worst streets in Saint Paul – I call them the Terrible 20 – would cost us more than $70 million. When the State – and the federal government—does not keep pace with its cities, our infrastructure suffers first.

This winter made it clear – we are long overdue for a comprehensive transportation bill from the State Legislature and the U.S. Congress that won’t just maintain our infrastructure, but create jobs in this tough economy.

We measure the success of our cities in many ways—how well our children are doing, how healthy our local businesses and economies are, the resources available to the least among us, the vitality of our downtowns, the strength of our neighborhoods. But there is a crucial factor that is largely invisible: how we are using the limited resources around us, and what we are doing to preserve them.

Saint Paul’s commitment to sustainability reaches back 25 years, when the city implemented what was at that time a groundbreaking recycling program. But while the times changed, the recycling program did not. So, last year, I announced a revitalization to Saint Paul’s recycling program crafted from a comprehensive survey of Saint Paul’s residents by Wilder Research—and one week from today, some of its main recommendations will go into effect. Not only will we expand plastics recycling—adding plastics numbers four, five and seven to the number ones and twos we’ve been recycling – we will switch to a single-sort system, eliminating the hassle of organizing. All paper, plastic containers, bottles and cans will be able to go in one bin.

We’re not stopping there. We heard your feedback, and we are building on it.

Next spring, we will transition to larger, covered wheeled carts and move pickup of recycling materials from the front yard to the alley.

Saint Paul has led on recycling in the past. With these changes, it will be a leader again.

When I think about the work we do, day in and day out, the huge projects that will take years to complete and the small ones that nevertheless make a big impact on a neighborhood, I think about people like DeShaun.

What kind of educational opportunities did DeShaun have? What about his out of school time? When he earns that engineering degree and opens his own business—in Saint Paul, I’m sure—will he find it easy to recruit a talented workforce, one that is attracted to the vibrancy of downtown? What forms of transportation will his employees take to work? How many of the buildings he visits each day will be built using sustainable strategies?

Perhaps the most important question of all—what opportunities will his children have?

Many of our projects are long-term, and often those who begin them don’t get to see them finished. But we do this work not for instant gratification or recognition, but to create a better place for the future of those in our city. Whether a city planner, street maintenance worker, librarian, city engineer, parks worker – the people who work for Saint Paul work hard to improve this city for his and future generations.

One week from today, Saint Paul will finally be introduced to an expanded, single-sort recycling system.

Six weeks from today, Lunds will be ringing up customers downtown.

And ten weeks from today, the Green Line will be open and running.

The momentum in Saint Paul is real. It’s time we really get moving.

Thank you.