The fate of Pedro Park on 10th and Robert streets in downtown Saint Paul is more unclear than ever. Some $800,000 in Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) funds earmarked for the park were used by the City Council this fall to make up a $22 million deficit in the 2020 city budget.

The reallocation dismayed Pedro Park supporters, who are in the middle of a legal battle with the city over plans for the site. It also disappointed members of the CIB Committee, who debated the proposed shift at meetings this fall. While saying they understand the city’s difficult financial situation, committee members were unhappy with the city for not providing notice to supporters of the park.

Pedro Park was one of two CIB projects that had funding shifted to balance the budget. The other was Fire Station 7, which had $1.5 million taken away. The fire station in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood is slated for replacement.

“I’m concerned about the lack of transparency,” said CIB Committee member Amy Huerta.

“Unfortunately, we have to make tough decisions to balance our 2020 budget,” said city budget director Susan Earle.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd have strained city resources, requiring dozens of amendments to balance this year’s budget.

Pedro Park
A 2018 rendering of plans for Pedro Park next to the former Public Safety Annex at 10th and Robert streets in downtown Saint Paul.

Pedro Park was supposed to be completed next to the city’s former Public Safety Annex at 100 E. 10th St. in 2019. However, city staff told the CIB Committee on November 9 that plans for the park going forward remain uncertain.

Instead of tearing down the annex and creating a larger park, the City Council voted in October 2018 to sell the building to Minneapolis-based Ackerberg Group, which planned to convert it into retail and office space.

Ackerberg was to buy the building for $1.4 million and planned to work with the city to develop the .45-acre vacant land next to the building as a park. It was to provide $40,000 annually for 20 years for park maintenance.

“I’m concerned about the lack of transparency,” said CIB Committee member Amy Huerta.

The park’s development and maintenance funds were contingent on the sale of the Public Safety Annex. Noel Nix, deputy director of government relations and community engagement for Mayor Melvin Carter, said the sale has never been finalized.

City marketing manager Hannah Burchill said Ackerberg has put in significant time and financial resources to the Public Safety Annex redevelopment project, but that it has not advanced due to COVID-19 and other factors. “The city is currently considering options and will provide more information about next steps after the new year,” she said.

The development of Pedro Park in 2018 had an estimated cost of $3.8 million and was to include play equipment, paths, seating, space for dogs and a water feature. About $200,000 in parkland dedication funds and $2.3 million in capital improvement funds were to be used to complete the work.

The issue pitted downtown residents and park advocacy groups who wanted a larger park against those calling for economic development. At the time, the CIB Committee supported the sale and the financing plan.

Kati Berg, a leader of the Friends of Pedro Park, said her understanding is that the sale to Ackerberg is off the table.

The Pedro family donated the site of its longtime luggage and briefcase business to the city in 2009 with the understanding that it would be combined with additional adjacent land for a park bearing the family’s name. The Pedro building was razed in 2011.

— Jane McClure

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