Effort to build land bridge over I-94 in St. Paul gains momentum with $2M grant
Along Concordia Avenue in St. Paul is the Rondo neighborhood — present day.
But Nieta Presley shared with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS photographs that show the Rondo she remembers.
“Rondo was an area or a community of being connected knowing your neighbor,” she declares. “Almost knowing everybody.”
A tight-knit, vibrant Black community, Presley recalls.
She says when she was 10 years old in the 1950s, construction on Interstate 94 began.
“And when that freeway came through, it was almost like a sword,” she says. “Just severed the whole neighborhood, split the whole neighborhood, so that connectedness was truly lost.”
City leaders say 700 homes and 500 buildings were destroyed.
RELATED: St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, split by I-94, may have a new beginning, one home at a time
A neighborhood torn in two — which is why Presley is so excited about the concept of a land bridge, a kind of cap over the interstate.
“This is a way of healing, so this land bridge is an exciting project to me in terms of what could be,” she says. “What the community imagines.”
Now, Reconnect Rondo says it’s one step closer to building that bridge.
The St. Paul nonprofit got word Monday that it’s received a $2 million dollar grant for planning work on the project.
We asked Keith Baker, Reconnect Rondo’s executive director, if he feels confident the land bridge will be built.
“Absolutely,” he declared. “I’m very driven. I’m an optimist by nature.”
Baker says the new money is on top of $6.2 million in state dollars the project received in 2021.
He acknowledges it’s just a small part of the $392 million cost expected for construction alone.
But Baker — who says he has 18 years of experience at the Minnesota Department of Transportation — believes in this project.
“This is more than a bridge,” he says. “This is really about the building of community. And trying to in-place, if you will, that which was destroyed by the freeway.”
RELATED: ‘Reconnect Rondo’ project moves forward despite Senate bill introduction to block funding
For now, the land bridge exists only in renderings.
After design work, Baker predicts crews could start breaking ground between 2027 and 2030.
Lucky Rosenbloom, though, says he’s not a big fan of the project.
He says his family has owned a business at Dale Street and St. Anthony Avenue since 1944. Once a barbecue place, it’s now a gun shop.
“We are the only business, the only structure that remains today from the Rondo era,” Rosenbloom explains.
He believes the federal dollars should be used for housing.
“If we have people that have been displaced in the community, and now they’re living in other areas of St. Paul, now what we’re going to do with that money is pay for your home because we displaced your major move out of this neighborhood,” Rosenbloom said.
RELATED: 2023 St. Paul budget to help Rondo neighborhood residents displaced by I-94
But Baker says he hopes to fund the project through transportation dollars, not housing money.
“The good news is that we’re not using pots of money that ordinary would go for housing, would go for business incubation,” he notes. “We’re using transportation money.”
Baker says design on the land bridge could begin as early as next year.
He says the initial plan is for his team to investigate the project’s environmental impact, and he hopes to have some movement on the project before elders in the community pass away.
Baker envisions not just a bridge but an open park space and a cultural museum.
“This is an African American cultural enterprise district that also connects a new community in St. Paul,” he says. “It’s a way of stitching the community in a larger way than simply a land bridge.”