The train is coming, and one group of Frogtown and Summit-University residents and business owners is fired up to prepare for the arrival of light rail transit (LRT) on University Avenue in St. Paul. The group, organized mainly through Facebook and the e-Democracy Forum met October 21 at Rondo Community Outreach Library, with the assistance of the District 7 Thomas-Dale Planning Council and the District 8 Summit-University Planning Council.
The diverse crowd of approximately 40 people engaged in friendly conversation with one another while waiting for pizza to arrive, then broke up into two groups to discuss two different areas along University. Several of the people attending said they were there “to listen,” while others were there to say what they want, and, maybe more importantly, what they don’t want to see on University.
With that in mind, residents want to make sure they’re on board to make the best use of that funding and to speak up on what they want and need in their community. Tait Danielson-Castillo, director of the District 7 Planning Council, encouraged the group to “be your own advocates.”
NEXT MEETING: Victoria-Grotto Visioning Meeting • Wednesday, November 18th • 6 pm – 8 pm at Model Cities (corner of Victoria and University)
Participants stressed the importance of maintaining the “character” of the neighborhoods and keeping a sense of Frogtown pride and Rondo pride. They felt that any new development opportunities should be made available to the people who are already there. One comment summed up the feelings of many: “We don’t want the neighborhood to turn prissy!”
About ten people chose to join one group chose to talk about property at University and Galtier, which the city purchased from Saxon Ford for $2 million, with grant money provided by the Metropolitan Council and the Family Housing Fund. The housing fund money stipulates that affordable housing must be a part of any new development there.
Facebook organizing around the Victoria Theater
A Facebook group discussing alternative plans for the Victoria Theater states its purpose:
The New Victoria Theatre Project Trust is trying to renovate and revive the old Victoria Theater, an historic entertainment venue in St. Paul near the corner of Victoria Street and University Avenue. They plan to renovate the Victoria Theatre into a multi-faceted stage performance theater. It will serve as a home for theater productions, cultural events, and live music performances by local, national, and international acts. Model Cities is trying to purchase the land and turn it into a parking lot. This group is here to organize community members to not let this happen and to preserve this historic building.
Our goal is to create a venue for the arts to serve as an anchor for the revitalization of the Thomas-Dale and Summit-University neighborhoods along the new Central Corridor light rail line.
We plan to renovate the Victoria Theatre into a multi-faceted stage performance theater. It will serve as a home for theater productions, cultural events, and live music performances by local, national, and international acts.
The building will also house The Victoria Performing Arts Centre, a non-profit dedicated to providing county-waivered services to the disabled community including music instruction and performance showcases.
The larger and more vocal group, with about 25-30 participants, talked about the area around University and Victoria, and in particular the old Victoria Theater site at 825 University, which is on the city’s list of vacant buildings. The Victoria was the home of one of the first silent movie houses in 1915, and was the place for performances and orchestras for many years. Plans are underway to seek historic designation for the Victoria Theater building. Next door, the a la Francaise Bakery building, which once housed a movie production company, already has historic designation.
Bee Vue is the current owner of the Victoria building and he said at the meeting that he needs to sell the building. Model Cities, a non-profit organization, is located to the west of the Victoria. Model Cities has signed a purchase agreement with a 45-day contingency to buy the building. Rumors that Model Cities plans to demolish the building and put in a parking lot are running throughout the community. At the meeting, Model Cities employee Brenda Bailey, said, “The site is still open for discussion … and parking is just an idea being talked about.”
Keith Johnson is involved with the Victoria Theater Project, an entity formed to try to keep the theater building. (Another web page gives information about the historical Moonshiner’s Dance parking lot.)
Beyond the theater, residents expressed desires that included a coffee shop with such amenities as light jazz music and food. Jessica Ainsworth-Truong and her husband Hai Truong own the Ngon Vietnamese Bistro on University, and they live in the neighborhood. She said, “I’d like a place to pick up coffee and a donut in the morning, and a sandwich at lunch.”
Long-time resident Denise Harris said the community needs an entertainment place for people of all ages, possibly tied in with some educational opportunity
Several people indicated that enough has been said about the “P” [parking] word. Sharon Paulson, who has lived in Frogtown for many years, said, “I don’t want to see parking lots all along University Avenue … On University, we have to keep our history.”
Ainsworth-Truong said, “Parking is not always the issue. We’re on a transit corridor.” She said that they have worked out parking arrangements with adjoining businesses to use their lots during off-hours.
Both groups stated strongly that they do not want to see pawn shops on University.
The group said they would meet again in a couple of weeks, though no date was set.
“Would you like to see the Victoria group and Model Cities work together?” Harris asked. “In Frogtown, when people come together and collaborate, things happen.”