A downtown St. Paul booster group is poised to take a positive page from Minneapolis’ playbook. The city’s Downtown Alliance is asking commercial property owners to fund for a new public safety communications center and downtown ambassadors.
It’s a project worth pursuing and could go a long way to improve the look and feel of the capitol city’s downtown.
The alliance is sending a petition to commercial property owners on Monday that will ask them to fund improvement efforts similar to Minneapolis’ Downtown Improvement District (DID). After city and business approval, the program could get started later this year, according to Downtown Alliance President Joe Spencer.
After several years of planning, the project (with a proposed $1.4 million budget) has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses that are struggling because of the virus are hard-pressed to contribute to the new effort. So to get started yet this year, the city’s safety center would be funded with $100,000 from Mayor Melvin Carter’s community-first public safety budget and $200,000 from several foundations.
The center, Spencer told an editorial writer, would be a hub of communications and collaboration involving private security, social service providers and nonprofits, and public safety agencies. Surveys of area businesses, he said, showed that improving safety and perceptions of safety was a top priority.
In 2021, business property owners would split the fusion center’s cost, and city and county funds would be used. An ambassadors program would be added in 2022.
For the past 11 years in Minneapolis, the DID program has made downtown cleaner, greener and more welcoming. Ambassadors in bright neon yellow shirts are known as friendly faces who help people navigate downtown. Recent DID projects have included adding hand sanitizing stations downtown, providing masks for more vulnerable downtown residents and increasing the number of public restrooms.
The Minneapolis DID has helped downtown residents, workers and visitors. The effort to start a similar program in St. Paul deserves the support of property owners and residents.