Looking to the future with an eye on the past – Hamline Midway Coalition – District 11 Planning Council


Located midway between the downtowns of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and just north of University Avenue, Hamline Midway is home to nearly 12,000 residents, and to the 154-year-old Hamline University.

According to Michael Jon Olson, Executive Director of the Hamline Midway Coalition District 11 Planning Council, there is no single big challenge for the neighborhood which he calls “very active and energetic.” Olson acknowledges a bit of tension between the old-timers in the neighborhood and the newer residents as they work through the issues, with each group coming from a different perspective. The council has two standing committees: the Transportation Committee and Land Use Advisory Committee. Members of the council are also working on a new comprehensive plan to submit to the city of Saint Paul.

Issues today and tomorrow – Hamline University and Light Rail

Today, both Hamline University and the rails continue to play prominent roles in the neighborhood .The university is developing preliminary five-year and 20-year plans, which would extend its campus farther into the community. The university , which already owns almost all of the the properties for the planned expansion,came to the district council for feedback on preliminary plans and will come back to the council again before it submits its final plans. According to Olson,the district council will not take action to approve (or not approve ) the university’s plans until there is a concrete plan. Any plans would also have to go to the the City Council.
The proposed Central Corridor light rail line will run along University Avenue. For Hamline Midway this means more concern for land use issues, especially in regard to auto-related businesses on University Avenue.

Betsy Leach, a long-time resident of the neighborhood, chairs the Transportation Committee. In an e-mail she wrote, “The LRT (light rail transit) is strongly supported by about half the neighborhood, and has been strongly opposed by the other half.” She says that each side has essentially the same concerns – “How will it affect local traffic, businesses and environmental conditions, such as noise levels, how can we assure high levels of local bus service, and can we make sure that walking and biking are also supported.” She says that the community does not want the LRT to cut off access to University Avenue, which could potentially divide them from their neighbors across University Avenue and the businesses there, including Target, Herberger’s, Cub and Rainbow. Members of her committee participate in a variety of groups working with officials on the light rail project to “ assure a project that does benefit us all.”

Leach says that in addition to the Central Corridor, the committee is in the process of developing a “full-fledged transportation plan for the neighborhood… that includes examining the pedestrian, bicycle, commercial traffic (including trains), transit and car traffic issues of the area for the next 5-10 years.”

Taking a unique approach through LISN

The planning council channels the energy of the residents through the Leadership in Support of Neighborhood (LISN), in partnership with the adjacent Thomas Dale District 7 Planning Council.

As Olson explains it,“ We’re [the planning council] explicitly not in the role of running projects and programs ourselves. LISN develops the talents of emerging leaders who are committed to improving their neighborhood.”

Participants (Fellows) in the LISN develop leadership skills in a number of ways with staff support and peer sessions during the year-long program. They receive a stipend for their participation in on-going community projects, by initiating their own project, or through involvement in an existing group in the neighborhood.

Past LISN Fellow projects include Paint the Pavement, a community building project, Soccer Around the World, a local youth soccer program, Hamline Midway History Corps, and Hamline Midway in Motion, a local walking/biking map.


The Hamline Midway Coalition receives funding from a variety of sources, including the city of Saint Paul for citizen participation and crime prevention. Hamline University contributes, as colleges and universities located in other neighborhoods contribute to their district planning councils.

Over the past three years, grants have been received from McKnight, Travelers, St. Paul, Bigelow, and Otto Bremer foundations. These grants help fund the LISN program.

Hamline Midway History Corps

Neighborhood history
Hamline Midway is an old and dignified neighborhood with a rich history. Trees line the streets, shading homes, most of which were built before 1940.

At one time, its residents were almost exclusively white and working class, with long-time roots in the neighborhood. That has changed over the past 10-15 years with increasing racial diversity and younger, middle class professional families who are settling there.

Hamline is named for a Methodist bishop, Leonidas Hamline, who donated $25,000 to help establish the university. It was the first institution of higher learning in the new Minnesota territory. Hamline Village, a “railroad suburb” with its own post office, surrounded the area of the university during the 1870s and 1880s. Railroad suburbs were created as early citizens moved out to the “country,” and used the expanding railroads to travel to work downtown.

Phil Reinhardt and Kristi Mathers were LISN fellows three years ago, and wanted to do something with history in their neighborhood. They ended up starting the Hamline Midway History Corps.

Krista Finstad Hanson, who has written books on architectural history and travel guides, was a LISN fellow last year. Her idea was to draw up a map of the neighborhood, a historic architectural walking tour, and public art map.

Finstad Hanson talks about the many homes in the city that are being demolished as a result of foreclosure. She says, “ With the tear-downs, it is even more critical to get the history of those homes down.”

The Hamline Midway History Corps sponsors events at the Hamline Midway Library on Minnehaha Avenue. Members are in the process of starting a speaker’s service, where they will bring in Saint Paul historians to present . They are working with other groups in an effort to get people interested in what has gone on along University Avenue in the past. Future Plans include working with the state and county historical societies .

Finstad Hanson also spoke of Newell Park, located at Fairview and Hewitt, which is now 100 years old, and is known for its oak trees. She clearly enjoys delving into the history of her community as she says,“ There’s a huge ‘then and now’ in our neighborhood. It’s kind of fun being a historian.”

Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of St. Paul, lives in the North End neighborhood. Now working as a freelance writer, Mary is retired from the St. Paul Public Schools. She also served as editor of the North End News, a community newspaper.