By JANE MCCLURE
Proponents for new playgrounds, recreation centers, bike lanes, library improvements and other projects are preparing for the public hearing on St. Paul’s Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB), at 6pm, Mon., June 1 at St. Paul City Hall, 15 W. Kellogg Blvd.
As the Monitor went to press, the CIB Committee was reviewing rankings from its task forces of community facilities, streets and utilities and residential and economic development. After the public hearing, the committee will finalize its rankings by mid-June and send them to the mayor and St. Paul City Council for inclusion in the 2016 city budget.
“We begin this process in February and it looks extremely different when we get to April,” said CIB Committee Member Michael Steward.
“The process has been a real success, from what I’ve been hearing from the task forces,” said CIB Committee Chairperson Paul Sawyer. Other CIB Committee members said they liked the citywide balance they saw in task force rankings, and the diversity in projects likely to be funded.
That’s not to say all went smoothly as task forces had several close votes as to whether or not to move projects up or down. One concern in Community Facilities Task Force discussions is that needed, big-ticket public safety projects compete for funding with libraries, parks and playgrounds. “It’s always difficult to lump in fire stations and police facilities with playgrounds,” said Highland District Council representative Laura Merriam. “It doesn’t make sense at all.”
Replacement of Fire Station 20, May Park equipment and Hamline-Midway Branch Library improvements fared well coming out of the task forces. But other area projects including improvements to Merriam Park, Dickerman Park, Como Ave. and Pelham Blvd. didn’t fare as well.
In total 131 projects were reviewed and ranked over the past few months.
Another frustration task force members raised was that projects bumped in 2014-2015 should have had priority for 2016-2017. A few projects lost funding due to other projects cost overruns or City Council members and the mayor making funding shifts. But not all of the projects dropped may make it into the next funding round.
Here’s an overview of how projects look going to the full committee:
The top-ranked project citywide out of 49 projects is tiny May Park, 816 Clayland St., in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood. Improvements were funded in the 2014-2015 CIB cycle. But the money was taken away by the City Council to fund another project.
Task force members who moved the park to the top of the rankings said they wanted to make a statement in supporting the $254,000 project.
May Park was followed by Fire Station 20 replacement, at $5.6 million. The top priority for the St. Paul Fire Department, a new Station 20 would be built on land donated by the Rock-Tenn paper recycling company. The current Fire Station 20, which is located on University Ave. just west of the Cretin-Vandalia intersections, was built in 1920. Access had to be reconfigured when Green Line light rail was built.
Scheffer Recreation Center replacement ($9.47 million) ranked third. Scheffer is at Thomas and Marion. Other area projects in the top 15 include Hamline Midway Branch Library modernization ($1.965 million) ranked at 13 and Frogtown Farm and play area ($522,000) at 14.
The library project is promoted by neighborhood residents, who had to wage a battle several years ago to even keep the library open. While it has had some improvements in recent years, it hasn’t had the full-scale modernization other libraries have enjoyed.
Streets and Utilities
The Streets and Utilities Task Force ranked 61 projects, with Sidney St.-Robert St. redesign ($50,000) topping the list. The Pierce Butler Route-Lexington Pkwy. bicycle connection ranked fourth ($220,000) and Vandalia St. Bridge rehabilitation ($750,000) was fifth.
Like May Park, the bicycle connection was funded two years ago and then cut out of the budget.
Residential and Economic Development
The Residential and Economic Development Task Force gave the East Side Home Improvement Revolving Loan Fund ($1 million) its top ranking, out of 21 projects. Area projects met mixed response from the task force. Model Cities’ Central Exchange residential-retail development near University and Victoria ($400,000) ranked sixth. The Victoria Theater renovation ($400,000) ranked seventh. The St. Paul Green Line Home Improvement Loan Fund ($500,000) was ranked 11th.