West End neighborhood pride

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The West End of Saint Paul has always been a solid working class community with a strong sense of neighborhood pride. Over the years that pride was bruised as the neighborhood changed and residents moved away, leaving the West End as a place to pass though rather than a place to be. Population patterns changed as Interstate 35E was cut through the neighborhood in the 1970s causing the permanent loss of many homes.

In 1973, alarmed at what was happening, a group of community members came together to form the West 7th/Fort Road Federation, which later became the District 9 Planning Council. With a $5,000 start-up grant from the Christian Sharing Fund, the federation worked on transportation issues, commercial revitalization, and restoring historic homes and buildings. Today it is the only district planning council that is also a community development corporation (CDC).

Born and raised in the West End, community organizer Betsy Moran still lives there and says she has been involved with the federation since its beginning. With typical West End pride she points to all of the new development that is taking place in the community, while at the same time expressing a “can-do attitude” as she acknowledges the hurdles still to overcome.

By the numbers: District 9 is one of the smaller districts in St. Paul, with 10,500 people. It stretches along a narrow strip bordered by Kellogg Blvd, Interstate 35E, and the Mississippi River bluffs.

New developments

At the intersection of West 7th and Randolph, construction is underway for a new clinic for United Family Practice. A few blocks away, at West 7th and Otto, a massive development is going up at the new Victoria Park . Upscale townhomes share the site with the new Sholom Community Alliance’s housing for seniors . Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op has also announced plans to build a new store there.

Ed Johnson, District 9 executive director, talks about plans for the Schmidt Brewery site. Dominion Development will begin work in 2009 on artist’s lofts, which will include 100-120 units of rental housing in the first phase of development. Plans also call for the brewery’s Rathskeller Room to take on new life in the form of retail and office space.

The Business Community

Recently the West End Business Association began meeting again after being out of existence for four or five years. Moran, who serves on that organization’s board of directors, says that more stable businesses are once again coming to the neighborhood. Where the focus of businesses used to be on services such as heating, it is now is on restaurants and hair salons. Shamrock’s, Chris and Rob’s Hot Dog Place, Supatra’s, and Bennett’s are a few of the new restaurants.

The district council is working along with the business association to address concerns about the upcoming Republican National Convention. The eastern boundary of the district is Kellogg Boulevard, where the Republicans will be meeting in the Xcel Energy Center. The council and business association are meeting with Assistant Saint Paul Police Chief Matt Bostrom to address concerns about getting employees in to work and the delivery of supplies.

Neighborhood Schools

More than once, the council has banded together to “save” the Monroe neighborhood school. Concerned about declining enrollment, and changes planned by the St. Paul school district for the school, the federation went to the district administration this spring to advocate for Monroe. Moran says that “ We told them we really see this as a community school – we want our kids to go to school in the neighborhood – it’s where our growth is. ”

District officials listened and Moran says the community is pleased with the new school district plan. In the fall Monroe will be paired with Linwood School. Programs for students with special needs will continue at the two schools

Challenges

Both Moran and Johnson point to the many foreclosures on homes in the area as the biggest challenge to the neighborhood at this time. The West 7th neighborhood is one of the neighborhoods receiving the city’s Invest Saint Paul (ISP) funding. Neighborhood ISP efforts focus around the Forbes /Douglas intersection where there are many vacant and foreclosed properties. Johnson estimates that 10 percent of these homes were meth houses, which results in possible soil contamination and raises many other issues in terms of liability.

First Ever Garden Tour

Coming soon is the first-ever West End Neighbors Garden Tour and plant sale, scheduled to be held on the summer solstice, June 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The idea for the garden tour was pitched by Kent Petterson, who owns Terrace Horticultural Books on Saint Clair Avenue. Maxine McCormick, editor of the Community Reporter, the local newspaper, asked Petterson to write a gardening column. This led to discussions and a strong interest in having a garden tour. Community partners include Denise Gathman of Community Neighborhood Housing Services and its NeighborWorks program. Sixteen gardeners will show their gardens for the tour.

Petterson, who has lived in the West End for eight years, says that he sees the garden tour as a way to build community. Moran says that it will give people a chance to see parts of the neighborhood that they might not otherwise have a reason to visit.

Location, Location, Location

Betty Moran, always upbeat about the West End, speaks of the easy access to the neighborhood that she says is “close to everything – to Shepard Road, the airport, downtown.”

Petterson says, “ It has been a delight to be a part of the energy of this neighborhood so close to downtown.”

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.