By Olivia Stevens, Pioneer Press. Originally published February 13, 2023.
The large-scale land bridge project proposed for St. Paul’s Rondo area will receive $2 million in funding under the federal infrastructure package.
Nonprofit ReConnect Rondo applied with the city of St. Paul for the grant through the “Reconnecting Communities” portion of the infrastructure bill. The portion amounts to a total of $1 billion to aid neighborhoods that, like Rondo, were economically uprooted by the construction of the federal highway system. The maximum amount of money a jurisdiction could request was $2 million.
While the project itself is expected to cost about $392 million, the funding will go toward environmental impact analysis, neighborhood traffic analysis and modeling, and community outreach to assess the potential impacts of building a large cap over Interstate 94 in St. Paul for several blocks between Lexington Parkway and Dale Street.
The federal funding was announced earlier this week by ReConnect Rondo and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum.
“We can feel very, very pleased that we were fully funded for what we requested,” said ReConnect Rondo Executive Director Keith Baker. “All of these studies that have to be done will ultimately inform our master plan.”
ReConnect Rondo has been holding community engagement events to receive concerns, questions and ideas for the bridge, which aims to provide 12 to 21 new acres for new housing and businesses, driving economic opportunity and revitalization of the area.
“What we’re hearing is that the community really sees this as a cultural district or a cultural heritage history arts kind of potential environment,” said Baker. “Open park space is another area that we’re hearing.”
The nonprofit has been working with the city of St. Paul, Ramsey County, the Metropolitan Council, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and local legislators to raise funds for the pre-development phase of the project for more than two years. In 2021, ReConnect Rondo secured $6.2 million from the state toward their master plan, and the $2 million from the infrastructure bill is matched by $500,000 from St. Paul and funding committed by the 2021 state Legislature.
‘Precedent is already set’
Out of the $392 million expected cost, Baker said he expects federal funding to cover 80%, and the state to pick up the remaining $80 million.
“That’s the same amount though that was invested in the infrastructure project for Target Field,” said Baker. “The precedent is already set.”
Baker said McCollum and U.S. Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar advocated for the project’s funding at the federal level and ReConnect Rondo plans to apply for other grants for which it qualifies.
“ReConnect Rondo’s neighborhood-led vision is important,” said McCollum in a press release Sunday, “and will create opportunities for community empowerment and economic growth. Most importantly, it allows for reconciliation and healing for a community that was cruelly ripped apart, and I am honored to have helped facilitate bringing these funds to the Fourth District.”