After years of reclaiming a nearly block-long public park in downtown St. Paul, supporters of Pedro Park saw the biggest impediment to their vision crumble. An excavator tore through the 1920s Public Safety Annex building on 10th Street on Wednesday, a hopeful sign of the park’s progress for residents who have campaigned for as much since 2009.
That was the year the Pedro family donated to St. Paul the vacant, five-story, 82,500-square-foot Pedro’s Luggage building, on the condition that the city replace it with a new urban park within five years. The city tore down the structure in 2011 and eventually added some basic plantings and a few scattered plastic chairs where it once stood, but little beyond an “urban flower field” has ever advanced so far.
In 2017, as one of his last acts in office, then-St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman cemented a deal with Minneapolis-based Ackerberg Group to redevelop the adjacent Public Safety Annex building into a modern office structure. Despite promises to the contrary from the developer, critics in the community said the deal would turn the “flower field” into a quarter-block corporate lawn rather than an official city park.
Agreement drew a community-led lawsuit against the city, as well as the ire of 81-year-old Marilyn Pitera.the last surviving elder of the Pedro family.
With the downtown office market cooling, Ackerberg pulled out of the deal at the end of 2020, much the same legal action against the city’s redevelopment plans failed in court. With no developer at hand and the process abandoned, the two parties regrouped, leading to the February unveiling of three conceptual plans for a more robust Pedro Park.
Each plan was about twice the size of the park presented on paper in 2017-2018. In March, St. Paul Parks and Recreation chose its preferred concept based on public input—a wedge-shaped green, with the block bisected by a curving, tree-lined path that extends along 10th and Robert streets in a spring.
Backed by a $1.5 million federal community development grant, demolition of the public safety annex building began this week and is expected to be completed by June 15. The building has sat vacant since 2018, costing city coffers about $100,000 annually to maintain.
The saga of the park is far from over. City officials admitted they still don’t have the cash in hand to fully realize Pedro Park. This will require additional city planning to identify funding sources, including fundraising.
However, the city plans to make some interim improvements to the park this summer, likely including lighting and security, short sections of walkway, seating, trees and grass.