After years of delays and uncertainty, work to expand tiny Pedro Park in downtown St. Paul is speeding up thanks to a state grant that frees up funding intended for another project.
The City Council on Wednesday approved $6 million for construction on the park, which city staff say they hope will be completed by spring of 2025.
Since the city-owned public safety annex at 100 E. 10th St. was torn down this spring, neighbors have grown excited seeing the 0.45-acre grassy area nearly double in size. But the city planned to leave the space mostly open until it found the $8 million needed to bring its vision for the park to life.
Funding suddenly became available after the state Department of Employment and Economic Development awarded St. Paul a grant for the North End Community Center, which is currently under construction. Now the city is shifting $5 million in bond funding from that project to Pedro Park, and adding an extra $1 million from its general fund.
The St. Paul Parks Conservancy is leading a private fundraising effort for the roughly $1.5 million still needed to build amenities such as a splash pad, playground and picnic shelter.
"It's going to be a lift for this community to do this, but it's such a beautiful vision," Michael-jon Pease, the conservancy's executive director, told the council during a public hearing last week. "It's going to be such a jewel."
Designs also show plans for a dog park and possible pickleball courts.
The news was welcomed by nearby residents, some of whom have been involved in planning for the park since 2006, when the city identified a need for more downtown green space. The Pedro family, which for decades ran a family-owned luggage business on the site, donated the park's current land to the city in 2009.
Since then, community members have gone back and forth with the city over the future of the site. At one point, the city planned to sell the public safety annex parcel to a developer that wanted to build office and retail space. Neighbors filed a lawsuit in response.
"The community has really fought long and hard for that to happen," said Julie Printz, president of Friends of Pedro Park, a volunteer-led nonprofit dedicated to maintaining the park.
Printz added that even in its unfinished state, Pedro Park is cherished by neighbors. Last summer, 29 gardeners worked in the space.
City staff added that they hope the park may be an attraction for future developers, businesses or residents considering downtown St. Paul.
"We've been talking so much about the need to bring activity and vibrancy to downtown," said City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who represents the area. "I can't imagine a better way to do that than creating this park."