Interstate 94 construction through St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood demolished hundreds of homes, shut down businesses and cleaved in two a once vibrant middle-class community that was home to 80% of the city’s Black residents.
The House Transportation and Finance committee heard a bill Thursday that would fund the early stages of a landbridge in the neighborhood, covering the freeway from Lexington Avenue to Rice Street to physically reconnect the neighborhood. The committee took no action, but Chair Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said that it could be included in an omnibus bill, Session Daily reported.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, asks for $6.2 million for a grant to nonprofit ReConnect Rondo that would cover pre-planning activities, including project management, planning, design, community outreach and redevelopment programming. Given the windfall from the recently enacted federal COVID-19 relief package, the proposal has emerged as more feasible than earlier in the year. Hornstein has said it’s a priority.
Rondo’s story is “one of pain, trauma and heartbreaking loss,” Richardson said. “In addition to righting historical wrongs, (the bill) provides the opportunity to benefit public health by reducing air and noise pollution. It also provides a pathway to recovering taxable land.”
ReConnect Rondo Executive Director Keith Baker said the land bridge would create hundreds of new homes, office space, up to 1,800 new jobs and increase St. Paul city tax revenue by at least $3.8 million.
The Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, is awaiting action in the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.
The land bridge proposal would create 15 to 21 acres of new land, according to Baker.
“The big idea, obviously, is to build back what was lost for African Americans,” he said to the committee.