An investment seen to right the wrong felt by Rondo five decades later


By Deevon Rahming, KARE11. Originally published March 1, 2023.

ST PAUL, Minn. — It’s an investment seen as a way to right the wrong felt by St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, more than five decades later. 

“Policies resulted in a wrong,” said Keith Baker, executive director of Reconnect Rondo. 

Images capture the painful history dating back to the 1960s, as the construction of I-94 uprooted the lives of many who called the historically Black neighborhood home. 

“Seven-hundred homes, 300 businesses,” explained Baker. 

Which launched the restorative movement, “Reconnect Rondo” in 2009, with one mission. 

“Reignite an African American cultural enterprise district in the community of St. Paul, Rondo, but connecting that enterprise district with a land bridge,” explained Baker. 

A vision getting a $2 million boost from the Reconnecting Communities Grant as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“Using a transportation element, like a land bridge, not only physically creates a structure that connects both sides, but it’s also an opportunity to build social, cultural, economic opportunities,” said Baker. 

It’s money funding the early stages of the more than $458 million project, weighing the risks. 

“Environmental impacts, traffic analysis — those kind of technical things that we know we’ll have to deliver,” explained Baker. 

Risks, which for Nika Bowie, a native Rondo Resident and St. Paul City Council candidate…

“I’m really excited to hear that we have policymakers that are committed to the promise of doing the right thing,” said Bowie. 

Are a small step toward progress. 

“Turn our pain into power. Healing is also a sign of justice and healing is also an opportunity for us to imagine more,” said Bowie. 

When asked if Baker was hopeful to see this project come to fruition, Baker replied, “We know as an example, Target Field sits over the freeway, precedence is already set.” 

He went on to say, “I’m an optimist and I’m a realist — a lot of work ahead.”

The restorative land bridge would cap I-94 for several blocks between Chatsworth Street and Grotto Street.

It’s a project Baker says is completely driven by the community. 

“Many of the folks that were advocating certain things back in 2009 serve currently on our board, they are descendants of Rondo, they are folks that personally had been impacted by it,” explained Baker. 

He went on to say, “The community is going to look out after the community’s interest and we can ensure at the highest degree that what we are doing truly is going to bring residual benefits to the neighborhood itself.”

There’s no official timeline for when construction on the land bridge will begin. 

However, once the entire project is completed it’s aimed to provide more than 500 new homes, retail spaces and generate more than 4 million in state revenue annually. 

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ReConnect Rondo Technical Advisory Team:

  • David Juliff, Be Civil, Inc.
  • Khani Sahebjam, SRF Consulting Group
  • John Maczko, SRF Consulting Group
  • Kent Arhenholtz, Kaskaskia Engineering Group
  • Brenda Thomas, KLJ, Inc
  • Marcus Thomas, Bolton & Menk
  • Scott McBride, Bolton & Menk
  • Marcell Walker, Bolton & Menk
  • Veronica Burt, 600 Strategies, Inc.
  • Björgvin Sævarsson, YORTH Group
  • Katie Eggers, YORTH Group
  • Jim Erkel, Retired Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA)
  • Brian Isaacson, Ramsey County
  • Diem Van Groth, Strategic Consultant