Saint Paul’s 8-80 Vitality Fund Can Help Saint Paul Work for Everyone


Rendering of the proposed downtown bike loop.

On Wednesday, October 8th, at 10:00 am, the Saint Paul City Council Budget Committee will review Mayor Chris Coleman’s proposed 8-80 Vitality Fund. If approved, the fund will invest $42.5 million in infrastructure projects designed to promote economic development by enlivening Saint Paul’s streets and public spaces. The idea for the fund was inspired by Gil Penalosa’s presentation at the Great River Gathering last May, where he urged Saint Paul to embrace a bold vision of a city that works for everyone, from 8 year olds to 80 years olds.

The Mayor introduced the initiative in his 2015 budget address on August 13th, as part of a proposed $54 million investment in street repair and transportation upgrades. The goal, he said, is to “create places where people feel safe to walk and bike, businesses feel confident in investing, and all means of transit and travel, including cars, work harmoniously together.”

The 8-80 proposal lists six key elements to be funded:

  1. $8M to renovate the Palace Theater in downtown Saint Paul, with additional funding anticipated from the State of Minnesota ($5M) and from management partners (almost $1M).
  2. $8M for Jackson Street reconstruction and installation of a two-way off-street bike trail from 2nd Street to 11th Street — the first leg of a proposed downtown network loop to connect to popular downtown attractions.
  3. $13.2M to go toward completion of the Grand Round, including $6M for street reconstruction on Wheelock Parkway, and $7.2M for trail construction and amenities on Wheelock Parkway, Johnson Parkway and Pelham Boulevard. The project will also leverage $900,000 in CIB funding designated for Grand Round planning.
  4. $1.8M to invest in a citywide fiber optic network.
  5. $2M to restore Dickerman Park to its originally intended use as a park. An additional $1M to $2.4M will need to be raised (hopefully from private sources) to plan and complete the project.
  6. $9.5M for additional development or reconstruction of 8-80 streets and public spaces. $2.5M of these funds will go toward reconstruction of St. Clair Avenue, with the remaining $7M to be used to support a variety of projects with a focus on street reconstruction, bike facilities, trail improvements and public spaces – specific projects still to be determined.

When the Mayor first announced his 8-80 initiative in August, I was hopeful that a substantial portion of this investment would go toward bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, which has been sorely neglected over many years of designing, building and maintaining streets for cars. I was pleased that the nine arterials scheduled for repair in 2015 were to be reconstructed or rehabilitated, with the possibility of improving the walking and biking environment as well as the roadway.

At the same time, I have a number of concerns. First is the fact that this investment in repairing the “Terrible Twenty” arterials comes at the cost of our residential neighborhoods, given that two thirds of the funding for the Residential Street Vitality Program (RSVP) will be shifted to arterial streets. While I understand the need to invest in our arterials at this time, I think it’s important that a goal be set to bring funding for RSVP back at least to its current level of $12.5M within the next few years.

I’m also concerned that the eleven streets being repaired this fall through the emergency mill and overlay projects did not offer any options to address walking and biking needs. Given that most of these streets are extremely unsafe and unpleasant for pedestrians and bicyclists, I would advocate for a community process to be undertaken in early 2015 to assess the highest priority needs, and that funds be set aside from the as-yet-unassigned $9.5M (#6 above) to implement biking and walking improvements. Otherwise, we may have to wait four to seven years for the next opportunity. (See 2014 St Paul Street Repairs – An Opportunity for Complete Streets, September 10, 2014)


Finally, I would urge the Mayor and the City Council to establish bold, transformational goals and set clear funding criteria for the 8-80 Vitality Fund. Gil Penalosa proposed “Fourteen Steps to Make St. Paul the World’s Best City”. Among my favorite admonitions on Penalosa’s list are:

  • Develop a Sense of Urgency to Make Things Better
  • Put Pedestrians First
  • Make Biking and Walking Utterly Normal
  • No Traffic Deaths by 2025
  • Plan your City Around People Not Cars
  • Focus on Making St Paul Great in Everything You Do
  • Shift Your Aspirations from Good Enough to Great!


Hopefully the 8-80 Vitality Fund will do more than just fill in the gaps in funding for desperately needed repairs or projects already on the books. To create an 8-80 City, we must challenge ourselves, think big, embrace creative new ideas, broaden engagement, attend to the needs of our elderly and infirm, and refuse to settle for less than the best. As Gil Penalosa says: “The cities that will lead the world in the future are not making small plans today.” Will Saint Paul be one of those world leaders? is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

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17 Responses to Saint Paul’s 8-80 Vitality Fund Can Help Saint Paul Work for Everyone

  1. Mike Sonn
    mikesonn October 7, 2014 at 7:43 am #

    #6, what work is planned for St Clair?

    And yes, completely agree about this years “emergency” work. What a shame and waste of an opportunity.

  2. Jim October 7, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    #4 intrigues me most of all. It’s high time St. Paul got with the times technology wise.

  3. David Markle
    David Markle October 7, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    Nice, but what’s the source of the money? Howls have gone up because of the street patching assessments and the special assessments along the Green Line. We shall see.

    • Jim October 7, 2014 at 11:56 am #

      Sales tax bonds ($40m) and assessements ($2.5m). The old Civic Center bonds from ’96 were paid off. The city is reissusing a new $40m bond issue funded by the half-cent sales tax.

    • Mike Sonn
      mikesonn October 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

      Well, the city can take my ROW assessment, and since I rarely drive, apply it to the downtown loop, which I’d use daily.

      • Matt Steele October 7, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

        Exactly. Assessments for amenities that add to property value and serve people are much easier to stomach than assessments for asphalt which degrades property values and is hostile to people.

  4. mplsjaromir October 7, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    This is a wonderful article Anne.

  5. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell October 7, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Great post Anne.

    Can someone help me understand how the Palace Theatre has much impact on making walking and bicycling for 8-80 folks more viable? Same for a fibre optic network. Dickerman Park?

    • Mike Sonn
      mikesonn October 8, 2014 at 10:22 am #

      Pet projects jumping on for the ride.

    • Jim October 8, 2014 at 11:15 am #

      St. Paul having a modern internet backbone like a fiber network will do more for the city’s economic development than any amount of bike lanes.

      Sadly this just looks like a network for the city’s operations. But hopefully it’s a prelude of things to come.

      • Matty Lang
        Matty Lang October 8, 2014 at 11:18 am #

        Century Link is providing a modern fiber network in Saint Paul (and Minneapolis) as soon as this month (I’ve been told that’s the timing anyway).

        • Jim October 8, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

          I’ve been following them (CL) closely. I hope it comes to fruition.

    • Matty Lang
      Matty Lang October 8, 2014 at 11:26 am #

      I’m not necessarily defending the inclusion of these projects in this proposal, however, quality public places are a necessary component of creating walkable and bikeable communities. Having places where people want to linger means more people on the streets.

      Dickerman Park (by itself) won’t have much of an impact in that regard, but the Palace Theatre becoming operational again would add to the activity and vitality of 7th Place in downtown Saint Paul. Now if only the city would extend 7th Place to the east by taking down what is mostly skyway space that’s covering where Old 7th Street used to be which could create a great pedestrian only commercial zone through the heart of downtown. That would have an impact.

      New Saint Paul battle cry: Let’s re-open Old 7th!

      • Jim October 8, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

        I don’t see them chopping up bits and pieces of Wells Fargo Place. I believe WF has it’s bank drive thru located right about where you’d be tearing away part of the building’s podium.

        The one option that was a possibility was demo’ing Macy’s and extending the mall between WFP and whatever new was built.. That doesn’t look likely now. But I think there are some other practical limitations to extending the 7th Pl Mall. One there is a big elevation change from Wabasha to Cedar. The mall would slope downhill or uphill depending which direction you’re heading. The other thing is once you’re down to Cedar your smack dab in front of the LRT tracks and their wires, not to mention the ugly exterior of Town Square.

        Extending the mall sounds nice. But I doubt it could come off as well many would hope.


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