The Winnipeg Project : a new beginning for Rice Street


The sun shone brightly in a cold, blue November sky, and smiles were the order of the day, as community members, developers, architects, and elected officials broke ground for the Winnipeg development at Rice Street and Winnipeg Avenue in Saint Paul. The $12.7 million mixed use project will have commercial shops at street level in each of its two buildings, and 56 units of rental housing for families with varying income levels. Sparc, the local non-profit community development corporation, and Legacy Management and Development Company are co-developers. Legacy will manage the project.

The Winnipeg development signals hope of a new beginning for the Rice Street/North End community, which has endured some very hard times in recent years. Once home to a bustling business community, Rice Street has seen countless businesses close their doors; For Rent and For Sale signs along the street are numerous. A combination of factors played into the situation, including the difficulty of maintaining small, family-owned businesses in this age of big box retailers and shopping malls. Quality of life crimes contributed to the bleak scenario as did a more transient population. With a limited number of stakeholders left to invest time, talent, and resources into the community, some wondered if the disinvestment in the neighborhood had fallen so far there was no way out.

The 56 rental units include 26 one-bedroom, 28 two-bedroom, and two three-bedroom apartments. Inside parking for tenants will be located on the first floor behind the commercial space. Two outside parking lots in the rear of the buildings will have entrances off the alley. Commercial tenants have not yet been identified.

A new Rice Street

Rice Street has been called a tough neighborhood – and that is true when you consider that the toughness translates to resiliency and the ability to forge ahead in difficult times. The community has come together in a number of ways. In a years-long endeavor, the District 6 Planning Council drew up a Comprehensive Plan, including building design guidelines. That plan is now incorporated into the City’s official planning process. The Rice Street Action Team (RSAT) meets regularly at the Sparc offices to identify problems, and work out solutions. Residents and businesses work with St. Paul Police Central District and with the beat cops assigned to Rice Street. The North End Business Association (NEBA) has served as a catalyst for the business people to work together to change the image of Rice Street.

While many businesses have left, others have stayed. Capital Bank, Hamerrnicks Decorating, Bradshaw Funeral Home, Rice Street Do-It-Best Hardware, Longs Auto Place, and others continue to do business on Rice Street. New construction in recent years includes the HealthEast Rice Street Clinic, and the Rice Street Branch Library. After a million dollar fire, the Weyandts chose to rebuild their family business, Ace Auto Parts, at the site, and they incorporated the new building design guidelines into the new facility. United Products, a construction supply company, located at Rice and Sycamore, has announced plans to build its world-wide headquarters on Rice Street.

New sidewalks and lighting have been installed in the stretch beginning at Rice and Sycamore and extending to Rice and Maryland. During the summer, hanging baskets of flowers provide a welcoming atmosphere to the street – the baskets are part of “Blooming Rice Street, ” which assists the business owners with the purchase of the baskets and the flowers. New “Rice Street” banners, with a design chosen by community members, are in the works.

Invest Saint Paul

The Winnipeg is part of the Invest Saint Paul initiative launched last spring by Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. The initiative is intended to not only invest in the bricks and mortar needed to build and refurbish buildings, but it is to invest in the people who live and work in the buildings as well. Invest Saint Paul focuses on four neighborhoods – the North End, Frogtown, Thomas-Dale, and Dayton’s Bluff.

Preparing to Build

The two buildings will be built on Rice Street, one on each side of Winnipeg Avenue. The first parcel of land was purchased by Sparc in December 2004. To date five older buildings have been demolished to make way for the new – two commercial buildings and three houses, although one of the houses was being used for a commercial purpose.
Soon, the building which once held the Flower Hut and a house will be demolished, which will leave the site ready for construction scheduled to begin in December 2007. Completion is set for December 2008.

Green Buildings

The Winnipeg buildings will be “green,” constructed with recycled materials and multiple energy-saving amenities, including an underground storm water retention system. Insulation will be formaldehyde free with no added chemicals, linoleum will be made of non-petroleum, jute-backed recycled materials. Carpets will be non-petroleum, recycled materials. Lighting and appliances, for the most part, will be Energy Star rated. Plumbing will include low flow showerheads and low flow flush toilets. Currently plans call for a white roof, which will reduce roof temperatures. Sparc is seeking funding to install a green roof, a roof covered with plants. If that funding comes through, the green roof would replace the white roof.

Looking to the Future

In the coming years Rice Street has the potential to become the place to live and work, to attend school, and to spend leisure time. Rice Street lies just north of the State Capital Complex of buildings. The North End neighborhood is adjacent to Como Park.

Jennifer Cassidy, the president of the Sparc Board of Directors., said at the groundbreaking ceremonies: “The Winnipeg is an exciting development for Rice Street. Local businesses, residents, and institutions such as Saint Bernard’s, have been working together to promote investment in our neighborhood. The Winnipeg represents that ‘ spark’ of rebirth that our community has dreamed of for so many years. This project also represents the broad investments in our community by the city of Saint Paul and the many funders who made this possible. We believe The Winnipeg will be a great addition to our neighborhood and we are excited to see it become a reality.”

For more information about The Winnipeg, or the Rice Street/North End neighborhood call Sparc at 651-488-1039

Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of Saint Paul, lives in the North End neighbood. Now working as a free lance writer, Mary is retired from Saint Paul Public Schools, and served as editor of the North End News, a community newspaper.