An unsightly strip mall in the East Side’s Payne-Phalen neighborhood sits on the former site of a major job center, whose departure precipitated an economic downturn that has not yet ended. This location is poised to have major transit improvements and could be positioned to breath life into the neighborhood once again.
The Seeger Refrigeration Company began on Arcade Street in 1902. It grew in size and merged with Whirlpool in 1955. At its peak it employed as many as 6,000 people. By its closing in 1984 it still employed between 600-800 workers.
It was situated on Arcade Street just north of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. While first on the east side of the street it grew to have manufacturing to the west, as well.
Here is a series of aerial photos showing the same location between 1923 and today:
After the closing of the manufacturing center by Whirlpool the site was redeveloped as two suburban-style strip malls, which were dubbed “Seeger Square.” It also made way for a YMCA between the strip mall and the nearby elementary school (bottom of picture).
Seeger Square is currently owned by the Glimcher Group, which is based in Pittsburgh, PA.
Businesses currently occupying space include:
- Cub Foods (formerly Rainbow)
- Beyond Tobacco
- J&J Beauty Supply
- Little Caesar’s
- Cricket Wireless
- U.S. Post Office
- H&R Block
- Home Choice Store
- Dollar Tree
- Auto Zone
- Vertical Endeavors
- Tacqueria Los Ocampo
- Boost Wireless
- Great Dragon Chinese
- Arcade Laundry
The footprint of the commercial buildings appears to be around 151,000 sqft with at least 18,000 sqft of space available for lease (I suspect more). Across the property’s three parking lots there is on the order of 343,000 sqft of pavement for car parking (this includes the massive lot at the lower level east of Vertical Endeavors).
This is a decidedly car-centric area right now. Seeger Square is at the intersection of busy Arcade Street and Phalen Boulevard. ADT on Arcade is somewhere around 13,000 while Phalen Blvd is similarly between 11-14,600.
Arcade Street between the two sides of Seeger Square is about 55’ wide and has five lanes.
Built along the old railroad just by Seeger Square is the Bruce Vento Trail (along Phalen Blvd). There are bike trails leading almost all the way into the shopping center, but they stop short. At that point, a bicycle rider is dumped onto hostile Arcade Street or into a parking lot inhospitable to bikes and pedestrians.
Arcade Street is served by the Route 61 bus, which travels between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. Unfortunately, this route only has 30 minute frequency at best, reduced to hourly in the evenings and on Saturday. It has no service at all at night or on Sundays.
There are many changes in store for Arcade Street:
- The first change in transportation for Arcade Street will be the expansion of the Route 54 bus. This extension will take approximately the same route as the planned aBRT (7th, Arcade, Maryland, White Bear Ave), but will not include upgraded buses or stations at this time. This significant transit improvement for Arcade Street will provide a frequent, limited-stop service to the Maplewood Mall, downtown St. Paul and even the airport. (If the route 54 is eventually replaced by the Riverview Corridor project it remains to be seen what would happen to this portion of the route)
This improved bus service will also replace the current, infrequent route 61 between downtown St. Paul and Maryland Avenue.
- The next opportunity for improvement is a planned Mill and Overlay of Arcade Street in 2022. The traffic volumes on Arcade Street between Larpenteur and 7th Street do not justify the number of lanes on most stretches of the street (aside, perhaps, from the Maryland Avenue intersection). See my article here on what alternative uses could look like. Arcade Street could become a major bikeway not just in front of Seeger Square but all the way from Larpenteur down to the 7th. If we don’t plan to make Arcade more walkable and bikeable it will have been a wasted opportunity.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Rush Line BRT bus will travel along Phalen Boulevard with a stop somehow situated at its intersection with Arcade Street. “Bus Rapid Transit” (BRT) is a limited-stop bus that rides in a dedicated right-of-way, functioning similarly to light rail. This bus will be fast, frequent, and comfortable, traveling between White Bear Lake and downtown St. Paul. The uncertainty of the Arcade station is due to the fact that Phalen Boulevard runs underneath the Arcade Street bridge. The default is to place the stop underneath the bridge and provide a mechanism for riders to ascend and descend, such as an elevator. In my opinion, a stop so far removed from any person’s destination is a recipe for low ridership.
A New Vision for Seeger Square
An alternative station location is right in the middle of Seeger Square.
A station placement at grade would do a few things:
- Make the station more accessible to residents living nearby
- Make the shopping destination closer for bus riders
- Allow for quicker and smoother transfers between the Route 54 Extension and the Rush Line
This would, obviously, require coordination and cooperation with the owners of Seeger Square, but it would also provide a major opportunity for redevelopment of their property. Placing a transit station in the middle of the commercial property would create the most attractive location for a transit-oriented development.
A mixed-use development here could have a high density of housing and businesses, including maintaining the important grocery store and small businesses, as well as becoming a destination. One example of a use I could imagine in the newly developed space would be a movie theater. People would have a quick ride there whether they lived along the Rush Line or the route 54. Bike lanes on Arcade would mean people living within Payne-Phalen or Dayton’s Bluff would have an easy ride there and back. And the possible retention of the large parking lot on the east of Vertical Endeavors would provide the car space needed for those who would choose to drive.
Zoning and Parking
It should also be noted that this parcel is already zoned as “Traditional Neighborhood 2” (T2). What is permitted in a T2 zoning area, as well as the other “Traditional Neighborhood” designations can be explored here.
For T1 and T2 zoning the code specifically describes parking location requirements:
(b) Placement of parking. Surface parking may be located:
- To the rear of the principal building or within the rear yard of the parcel.
- In an interior side yard if rear parking is impractical or insufficient, provided that surface parking areas and entrance drives occupy no more than fifty (50) percent of the total lot frontage. Surface parking areas in light rail station areas shall occupy no more than sixty (60) feet of the lot frontage.
- On a separate lot, in compliance with section 63.304.
- If a variance of this parking placement requirement is necessary to allow parking in front of a building because of special needs and site constraints, there should be a good pedestrian connection between the sidewalk and building entrance, and the area should be well landscaped.
Clearly, the parking lot placement at Seeger Square is directly at odds with its current zoning. The change in zoning reflects the neighborhood’s desire to preserve the character of the more urban stretches of Arcade that can be found just blocks to the north.
The Rush Line, the Route 54 Extension (and possible future aBRT), the existing Bruce Vento Trail, and the possibility of Arcade Street bike lanes all present an opportunity to make Seeger Square into a local multi-modal transportation center. Additionally, the commercial space is there for a new mixed-use, transit-oriented development.
The history of the Seeger Refrigeration site is one of neighborhood growth followed by serious economic depression. The ingredients are now present to make the next chapter of the Seeger site one of neighborhood revitalization.