Urban Renewal Gets Personal

When we decided to wed nearly three years ago, moving to my already established home in Downtown St. Paul seemed like a natural fit.  We loved the building, and the quiet urban center that was Lowertown was less than a mile from my post at the State Capitol.

But before long, the evenings we once enjoyed listening to the local jazz trumpeter playing in Mears Park next to the lapping brook were quickly replaced by a newly developed entertainment district’s sound-ordinance breaking speakers and young suburbanites shrieking at 1

a.m. while groping for their car keys on the sidewalk.

While we applauded the conversion of Union Depot back to its origins as a transportation hub, its renovation marked the beginning of summer after summer of jack hammers and madly beeping construction vehicles as a parade of apartment, condo buildings, and finally a new ballpark, shattered the daytime peace as well.

Mears Park had also become a magnent for every type of band, festival and wedding imaginable. We found ourselves compelled to leave our apartment several evenings each week during the summer due to the noise level.  Finally, we vacated a stunning fourth floor park view apartment halfway through our first lease for a quieter unit overlooking Fifth Street.

The “band” problem persists so heavily throughout Lowertown on an even larger scale now. A friend who lives in the Great Northern building believes the City of St. Paul has someone employed full-time to locate every potential band in the metro area so that they can be placed in some area of Lowertown each night of the week, with the intent to drive out its residents. Bands are now apparently disturbing her home life every Wednesday evening from the platform of the Union Depot.

It was becoming obvious that the once welcoming city neighborhood we loved wasn’t really interested in the fact that we could no longer sleep or work in our home.  It was more excited about attracting students and young professionals who wanted to watch a baseball game before hitting the tequila bar, and then enjoy the luxury of walking to an apartment to sleep off the hangover.

We knew we had to leave.  We also knew we loved urban life.   So we wondered: is it possible to live in an urban center and not have to use earplugs to get a good night’s sleep? Does every city have someone employed to find bands, install bars and hire screaming 20 year-olds to

Photo of Mears Park in Lowertown St. Paul

Lowertown St. Paul looking out onto Mears Park

plague its residents?  It may be a huge gamble, but we’re betting not.

We have discovered a unique, remote neighborhood at what we’re calling “the end” of the Minneapolis North Loop.  It was the building that attracted us first.  Sleek, Swedish and a model for green living that seemed to actually be feasible.  But when we discovered it was located on the far edge of downtown, close to both of our workplaces, and how the builder had been “sound conscious” in its construction (using the double-paned glass concept most large cities use for sound control in urban residential buildings), we thought we had a shot.

So, we’re sorting, selling, packing and praying that our little piece of urban heaven lies across the river.  We’ll keep you posted.

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2 thoughts on “Urban Renewal Gets Personal

  1. I feel like this is a really negative way to look at the changes that Lowertown is undergoing. You have categorized all 20 somethings as loud and rude drunks who’s only purpose is to get tanked and disturb the peace. I am not a 20 something… I’m actually 35. I do not partake in the “music in the park” as it generally is not my type of music. However… when I look out my window over to the park.. during the festivities.. I see people coming together to enjoy music and enjoy each others company. I think that is a wonderful thing. As far as the ballpark goes.. it’s the St Paul Saints.. not the Twins moving in. The only thing that will destroy the artist community here is people like you who are close minded.. not interested in embracing change and not willing to even give your new neighbors a chance. Also.. the last time i checked music was a very important part of the arts. Best of luck in Minneapolis.

    • Jeffrey, thanks so much for reading Urban Deluxe. First, I’m pretty certain that not all 20-somethings are loud and rude drunks because I have a daughter who is 22, and several friends in this age category, many who live in Lowertown, who don’t behave that way. What I haven’t discussed in the blog, so it’s understandable that you don’t realize this, is that I am a musician who has participated in several music events here in Lowertown, including the St. Paul Art Crawl. Yes, I do consider music a part of the arts and myself a part of it as well. The last time I checked, I was pretty certain that the Saints, and not the Twins, were moving into Lowertown. My apologies if anything in Urban Deluxe lead you to believe that I thought otherwise and lastly, the sense of community, and people using the park is the greatest thing I’ve loved about Lowertown.

      What I do object to is Barrio openly breaking sound ordinances by placing speakers on their sidewalks well after 10 p.m. at night, and simply ignoring the Ramsey County Sheriff Department when they ask them to cease and desist. I also mind the fact that my husband, myself, our house guests and most of the neighbors in our building, many who are under 35 and including my 22 year-old daughter, lament that we have to sleep with earplugs in each night because of the verbal celebration in which bar patrons engage in when they leave the Lowertown entertainment district each night. While I do enjoy music of all kinds in the park I do not enjoy the fact that there are so many events scheduled there, and that the sound is not monitored, so that several evenings a week in the summer, I have to leave my home to escape the volume of the music. I do not ask for a perfect neighborhood, but I do ask that I be allowed to sleep in my home at night and be able to carry on a conversation in my living room in the evening.

      When I moved here 7 years ago, I worked with a volunteer group called “Friends of Mears Park,” then headed by a wonderful woman in her 90’s who organized our group. The city was not maintaining Mears Park beyond weekly trash pick up and occasional mowing. Each of us invested our own money in purchasing replacement plants for the park that had been allowed to die, and thus turned it to weeds. We had the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Music In Mears Park and seasonal weddings occurring in the park after it was revitalized at the personal expense and efforts of volunteers. In the early days, these events did not occur several nights each week and we did not have bars present in the neighborhood ignoring sound ordinances. It is not surprising that you did not realize this, so I hope this explains why some of us who have made friends, built lives and invested in Lowertown as a community have been pleased with the changes, but not happy with the outcomes.

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