#TBT: St. Paul Gets Serious about Riverfront Revitalization
This view of St. Paul’s Upper Landing area dates from the very early 2000s. The Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) and parking ramp are new features of the riverfront. The old head house and sack house from the Farmers Union Elevator (left foreground) have not been renovated yet. There is no development of residences or small businesses or parks yet on the Upper Landing.
All of this would change within a decade, but the commitment shown by the Board of the Science Museum was the catalyst that led to the ensuing hundreds of millions of dollars of public and private investment. In the late 1990s, it was becoming apparent that the SMM was outgrowing its space in downtown St. Paul. Much of the programming at the museum involved school groups from southern and western suburbs, and there was considerable internal debate about abandoning St. Paul for a more suburban location.
Instead, the SMM committed to the St. Paul riverfront, putting around $100 million into the development of the new facility. The museum has become a major visitor destination, and, together with the new (at least at the time) River Centre, Xcel Energy Center (home of the Minnesota Wild hockey team plus arena concerts) and a refurbished Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, has made this part of St. Paul’s downtown an extremely vibrant locale.
In 2003 the National Park Service opened a Visitor Center in the SMM, a contact station for NPS visibility that reaches tens of thousands of people every year. The renovated Mississippi River Visitor Center will re-open next week, to recognize the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service.
For St Paul, revitalization started with a commitment to the river.