St. Paul’s Rice Park: Part Catalyst, Part Message

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St. Paul boosters have long sought to present the Rice Park area as a symbol of life here, to audiences near and far. A brief historical retelling reveals how the park and the urban activity that
envelops it have always been inseparable, and why.

Rice Park as Catalyst

Nearly ten years before Minnesota gained statehood in 1858, Rice Park was donated to the City of St. Paul as a public square by Henry Rice and John Irvine. The park’s first years were modest in many respects – accounts recall its use for cows’ grazing and as a place to hang linen to dry. With James
J. Hill’s Great Northern railroad monopoly in place, lumber and grain enterprise thriving and the city booming by the 1880s, developers erected a panoply of prominent buildings throughout downtown including the Ryan Hotel (1885-1962) and the Pioneer Building (1889-). Rice Park increasingly became a center of the city’s economic and civic life.

The Panic of 1893, as I mentioned
in a previous post
, represented the most severe economic depression in the nation’s history to date, effectively halting construction downtown. Following recovery, development came to resume in downtown St. Paul – with the Rice Park area in particular focus.

Between 1910 and 1920, three signature structures appeared around the park: The St. Paul Hotel,Landmark_center
the Minnesota Club, and the St. Paul Public Library / James J. Hill Reference Library. These joined the Federal Courts Building (now the Landmark Center, pictured), finished in 1901. A report commissioned
for historic designation in 2001 noted that

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, business
leaders worked toward enhancing St. Paul’s attractiveness for business…Business leaders, including James J. Hill, were active in focusing downtown development on the Rice Park area and ensuring that architecturally designed buildings enhanced the vision they promoted. (St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission, "Rice Park Historic District Study,” 3).

So committed were business boosters to creating noteworthy space around the park, the Business League – forerunner to the chamber of commerce – raised $125,000 to purchase the site for the St. Paul Hotel, a sum equivalent to over $2.7 million in today’s dollars.

Between the 1930s and the 1960s, Rice Park and its surroundings endured a period of neglect, during which both the park and the buildings were threatened and saved. In the 1970s and 1980s, activists saved the Federal Courts Building from demolition, and a major renovation of the hotel moved the main entrance to face the park rather than the core of downtown. Again, capital from the private market and public sector followed a path to the park’s perimeter. The construction of the Ordway Center and a recent renovation of the St. Paul Public Library have reestablished the Rice Park area in the mold envisioned by Hill and others in the early twentieth century.

Rice Park as a Message

Braided into the narrative of Rice Park’s inception and development, its period of decline and restoration, is the notion of the park as a physical message to audiences beyond downtown, beyond city limits, around the country.

One hundred years ago, the grand opening of the St. Paul Hotel
was attended by the governors of both Minnesota and North Dakota, the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis,
magnate James J. Hill, Archbishop John Ireland and others. Clearly, the hotel’s parkside construction was viewed as a significant statement to a broader audience.

In September, the park will transmit a message to the nation when 45,000 Republican activists and reporters come to St. Paul for the party’s national convention, to be held in the Xcel Center, located just one block from Rice Park.

Anthony Andler is the proprietor of Heimie’s Haberdashery, a men’s clothing store located in the historic Hamm Building in the Rice Park area. Said Andler this week, “when I started my business, I asked myself, ‘what do I love about this city and how
can I help others experience that?’” When I heard these words, I imagined the same sentiments exchanged at Business League meetings one hundred years ago. At that time, boosters answered this question by leveraging a public space and investing heavily in the design and construction of the buildings
around it.

“Windows say something: They say, ‘here we are and here’s what we do’,” Andler says about Heimie’s. Rice Park is itself a window, through which residents and visitors view how St. Paul pictures itself – characterized by lasting and traditional architecture, a meeting of public and private sectors. It also suggests that after a hundred years, the people of St. Paul continue to be inspired by the place created by this combination of open space and buildings, by the joining of past and present.

Photos:  Courtesy of Maggie Osterberg and H. Head, Flickr.

Perhaps Treasury Yields Ought to be the Talk of the Town

The Economist magazine featured an item of interest to
placemakers in the last issue, exploring the rationale for continued very low
yields for Treasury securities, to which bank financing and taxable municipal
bonds are linked. Higher bond yields,
which appear about the only possibility moving forward, mean higher cost of
capital for redevelopment initiatives.10_year

The yield for a ten-year note from the U.S. Treasury is 4.10%
as of this writing, among the lowest levels in the last 45 years as shown. The yield of a bond theoretically reflects an
investor’s expectation of inflation, plus some evaluation of the risk that the
issuer of the bond will fail to repay the debt. As columnist Buttonwood points out in the Economist, simple combination
of these two factors do not lead us to yields at today’s low levels:

Consumers have been grumbling about the inflationary impact
of higher oil and food prices for a while. But bond investors have only recently taken fright, pushing the yield on
the 10-year Treasury bond above 4% on May 28, for the first time since the
start of the year. Even now, however,
the breakeven inflation rate [the difference between conventional Treasury
yields and a comparable security whose yield is indexed to inflation] on
five-year Treasury issues is just 2.4%…compare that with the 7.7% inflation
rate that American consumers expect over the next 12 months.

Buttonwood posits potential causes of this mismatch,
including bond analysts operating in absentia and the notion that bond
investors simply disagree with consumers’ expectations for inflation. His conclusion notes an analysts’ projection
for Treasury yields to increase by 2% to 3% in the next two or three years.

Although the world may not be about to return to the
excesses of the 1970s, the Goldilocks era is tapering off: the trade-off
between growth and inflation has deteriorated.

View the entire
article here
, and for those of you particularly interested in bond market
behavior, visit the commentator at Accrued
Interest
, also listed in the Blog and Website Forum on the right side of this
site.

Source of graph data:  Federal Reserve bank system

Donjek Welcomes Dan Walsh, Transportation Planner and Development Consultant

Donjek, Inc. is very pleased to announce that Dan
Walsh will join the firm as Vice President in June. A graduate of the Harvard Kennedy
School of Government, Dan brings a wide range of experience crafting and
implementing urban development strategies. The Minneapolis native’s expertise in financing options and his skills in analyzing and planning economic development initiatives,
transportation investments, and public-private development projects will be a
great addition to Donjek.  See coverage of Walsh’s arrival in this week’s Finance and Commerce newspaper.

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Dan has played a leadership role in urban
development initiatives in Minnesota and elsewhere. While with St. Paul-based Transit
for Livable Communities, he helped to pass the 2005 Minnesota state transportation bill that
authorized the 2006 constitutional referendum on the use of the State’s Motor
Vehicle Sales Tax. In addition, he worked with communities to plan
redevelopment projects including Lake Street in Minneapolis and downtown Robbinsdale, Minnesota. He is also familiar with political strategic planning
having managed campaigns for Minnesota state representatives.

Dan’s experience elsewhere includes helping to update
Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies report America’s Rental Housing – Homes for a
Diverse Nation
. He also helped to craft an economic development strategy
for the North Central Massachusetts region and a real estate development proposal
in Allston, Massachusetts.  In 2007, Harvard’s Kennedy School awarded Dan the Michael
S. Dukakis Fellowship. This honor brought him to work for Maryland Governor
Martin O’Malley’s policy director where he analyzed policy initiatives for the
governor and worked with officials from various state departments to craft a
policy framework for the governor’s sustainability, security, and workforce
creation strategies.

Dan earned his Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Annie.