The Metropolitan Council’s anti-urban headquarters

Metropolitan Council headquarters in downtown Saint Paul.

Metropolitan Council headquarters in downtown Saint Paul.


This is the headquarters of the Metropolitan Council, the Twin Cities regional planning agency. It’s located in downtown Saint Paul. Notice anything about how it’s laid out? If you ever walk past, it may take a moment, but you’ll soon realize that the building doesn’t have any entrances onto the street. There are doors along Robert Street and 6th Street, but they are all emergency exits without any door handles to let people get back inside. The story is the same on the east side of the building, where there’s a pedestrian walkway followed by a vehicle ramp which drops down one level to access parking underneath the block.

The only entrance to the building is along a pedestrian alley on the south side of the structure. That’s a unique feature, but not unique enough to make up for the bunker-like stance of the building everywhere else. It was either designed to fend off attacks from angry mobs or to keep the interior dry against floodwaters that will never reach that height. There are a few small trees and shrubs planted in the alley to soften the concrete and stone, but it still stands in stark contrast to Mears Park a mere block and a half to the east, as well as many other more traditionally-designed buildings in the city that have permeable first floors with windows and doors that can be opened from the outside.

Of course, I shouldn’t dump all the blame for the building onto the Met Council: It had originally been built in 1967 as an office building for the state government, acting as the base of operations for the Department of Economic Security for some time (that was merged into the Department of Employment and Economic Development—DEED—in 2003).

Downtown Saint Paul has a mixture of old and new buildings. Many of the ones built from the 1960s onward have major flaws like this: Either large expanses of blank walls, often where the only gaps are built for parking garage entrances or truck loading docks. But the Met Council building remains one of the most stark dismissals of the street. It’s not the way to induce exciting street life. Can buildings like this be rehabilitated?



A lone man waiting for the bus outside the Metropolitan Council building,.

About Mike Hicks

Mike Hicks is a computer geek at heart, but has always had interests in transportation and urban planning. A longtime contributor to Wikipedia, he started a blog about trains and other transportation after realizing it had been two decades since he'd first heard about a potential high-speed rail line from Chicago to Minneapolis. Read more at

4 thoughts on “The Metropolitan Council’s anti-urban headquarters

  1. Presley

    Seems like just another example of our world built for access by cars carrying humans, but not pedestrians. I think there is a lot that could be done, although I’m no architect, art or interesting textures could be added to the street level walls, the exit only doors could be made into entrances.
    “floodwaters that will never reach that height” This statement worries me, it could be true, but in this changing climate do we really know?

  2. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

    Great post Mike. Buildings like these were “of an era,” if you will. I like to think an employer’s choice of office reflects their outlook and mission, but compared to the Met Council’s old offices facing Mears Park, one has to wonder if this location effects the work of the Council.

    Can buildings like this be rehabilitated? Yes, punch doors and windows in to them.

    At least there is an excellent skyway connection!

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    As bad as this Met Council HQ building is, it doesn’t even place on the list of top 5 worst buildings in downtown Saint Paul (post forthcoming)…

    Almost all of St Paul’s post-war architecture is worse than this one. At least the Met Counci HQ has symbolic windows and doors, and some expanded sidewalk space. Contrast with the Alliance Bank HQ, Securian Center, “Town Square”, US Bank Building, the Macy’s, and even the best ones (StP/Travelers HQ and Ecolab) have horrible streetfronts on three sides.

    If you don’t believe me, go stand at the corner of 6th and Cedar for a few minutes. It’s hard to find a more soul sucking corner in the Twin Cities.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt

      I have enjoyed the Flickr timeline of horrible St. Paul sidewalks. Primarily because I don’t have to walk those blocks every day.

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