The proposed 12-mile Riverview Corridor modern streetcar route would run past several designated historic properties and properties potentially eligible for historic designation as well as through several historic districts. How those properties could be affected by the construction of the transit project is the focus of a study currently underway.
More than two dozen people attended a virtual meeting on December 8 to hear about the study and weigh in on the properties along the route, which would run along West Seventh Street to connect downtown Saint Paul with Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and the Mall of America.
Public participation is considered crucial to the study, which is expected to continue through 2023. “We don’t know the area in the same way that people who live here do,” said Kristen Zschomler of the Mead & Hunt consulting firm.
Transit project planners are now wrapping up the first year of a three-year engineering and predevelopment study. That includes what is called a Section 106 study, said Ramsey County senior transportation planner Jennifer Jordan.
A Section 106 review process is mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. That section requires federal agencies to identify and assess the effects that any actions may have on historic buildings, landscapes and sites.
The study’s results will become part of applications for financial assistance from the Federal Transit Administration. A similar study was conducted about a decade ago along University Avenue and in downtown Saint Paul before the light-rail Green Line was built.
Public participation is considered crucial to the study. “We don’t know the area in the same way that people who live here do,” said Kristen Zschomler of the Mead & Hunt consulting firm.
Historic districts along the Riverview route include the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company, Irvine Park, Lowertown and a West End scattered-site district of limestone buildings. More than two dozen places along the route already have local, state or national historic designation.
The county is working with consulting firms to conduct the study and will draw on previous research, including a state transportation study of historic properties along West Seventh that was conducted several years ago. While that study covers West Seventh, which is a state highway, it did not include the Fort Snelling area or downtown Saint Paul.
Participation in the study is being sought from a broad sector of the public, said Christina Slattery of Mead & Hunt. That includes property owners, Native American tribes, the State Historic Preservation Office, Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Commission, local historians, and neighborhood associations.
The study will have four steps, with the identification of historic properties already underway. That will be followed by assessing and then resolving any negative impacts of the planned project on those properties.
During the study, one area of focus will be the location of Riverview Corridor station locations. A separate station area planning process study is also underway and includes a survey of planned stations at Saint Clair, Randolph and Otto avenues. That survey can be accessed at surveymonkey.com/r/F5PTYFR. In 2022, feedback will be sought on other planned station areas.
While people may think of historic districts and buildings as having local, state or national designations, other places can be studied as well. These include places associated with a national event or a significant person. The design and construction of a building can also make it worthy of study, while extensive alterations may adversely affect a building’s historic status.
Historians also look at archeological sites and their importance to history. That could include sites near Historic Fort Snelling and Bdote at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.
Historic buildings along the route that will be studied include the CSPS Hall, 383 W. Michigan St., which was built in 1887 and is the longest serving Czech-Slovak hall in continuous use in the United States.
Another example is the Manhattan Building on Robert Street in Lowertown, an 1890 Renaissance Revival bank and office building that was designed by Clarence H. Johnston Sr. while he was serving as state architect between 1891–1931.
The consultants explained that not all of the historic sites considered may be considered old or historic by everyone. State officials are looking at a historic designation request for Landmark Towers near Rice Park, a 25-story mixed-use building that was erected in the early 1980s.
For more information about the Section 106 study, station area planning, and maps of the streetcar route and the historically significant places along its path, visit riverviewcorridor.com.
— Jane McClure
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