Candidates for Ward 4: Shirley Erstad on Development in Ward 4 and Community Engagement

Writer’s note: On August 14, 2018, St Paul Ward 4 residents will have the opportunity to vote for a new City Council Member in a special election to replace Russ Stark as he accepts a new position within the city. As a Ward 4 resident, I wrote to the candidates to ask them specific questions about the neighborhood around the soccer stadium. They wrote back asking to chat in person. With their permission, I decided to share my interviews with a larger audience. This is part three of the series of conversations with Ward 4 candidates regarding development around the areas surrounding the soccer stadium.

“Here’s a perfect example of green space adding economic value.” says Shirley Erstad while standing in front of Dickerman Park with the YMCA in the background. “People see something that looks nice and it draws them into the business.  They want to be there.”

Shirley Erstad has been the Executive Director for Friends of the Parks and Trails of Saint Paul and Ramsey County for the past four years. “I remember working on Dickerman Park through my work with Friends of the Parks. We wanted to tell the story of the history of the area. Railroad was a large part of the neighborhood, and the art here is significant, it symbolizes the railroad history.”

“I first got involved locally when I was at a Planning Commission meeting. It started about 15 minutes late because we had to wait for enough people to show up to have a quorum. It took so long to have a quorum because the Planning Commission actually had seats to fill. They weren’t functioning at capacity.” Erstad says of her venture into local politics. She is now running to represent Ward 4 on the Saint Paul City Council.

“I realized that many of the systems that we have for community voices were not functioning at capacity. I worked with Mayor Coleman for 18 months to recruit people and get more diverse voices to the table.”

“We need to work with what we have and grow. For example, I want to work with the district councils to be active and visible in the ward. I realize as a single councilperson, I would not be able to attend every meeting, but I would want to rotate through the district councils in Ward 4. We need to activate the district councils as a voice to be heard,” Erstad explains her method to ensure community voices are heard.

“We need to think critically about development. The Marshall Avenue Moratorium came from city driven data that showed the neighborhood already had higher percent of density than what was called for in the neighborhood plan,” Erstad says as an example of community voices making a difference.

“The sound variance of the soccer stadium is an example of where the city council could have listened to the district council. The city council and developers need to make a connection to the neighborhood, the taxpayers.”

In terms of ensuring vacant areas around the soccer stadium get developed, Shirley Erstad says, “We need to make sure the community development agreements are followed. We can also use zoning and promoting a small business model to help community meet needs. If we use TIF dollars, it needs to benefit broader development.”

As far as encouraging business growth in the area, Erstad again notes that Saint Paul already has some positive things in place. “One example is the Little Africa neighborhood. This branding helps foster relationships within the business community. The district councils could help reach out to the small business community as well. I think we also need to focus on living wage jobs and be open and transparent when the city is working with developers.”

If elected what does Erstad hope to accomplish?  She says “I want to bring civility back into the neighborhood. I’ve lived in my neighborhood for 19 years. I think every neighborhood in Saint Paul has a distinct neighborhood feel and there is a lot of pride in community. I live next to an apartment building, a duplex, a condo building. We live in a mixed housing environment. The neighbors know each other. No one really moves out. We need to make opportunity for others to move in while not losing sight of why people like to live in the neighborhood.”

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