The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Grand Ave. prepares for reconstruction

A stretch of Grand Ave. near Macalester’s campus. Photo by Rory Donaghy ’24.

 Grand Ave. is about to get a makeover. The street, from Fairview Ave. to Snelling Ave., will undergo a construction project which, according to the City of St. Paul, will improve safety, infrastructure and pedestrian experience. The project is slated to take two years and start this summer. This section of Grand Ave. is home to many homeowners, businesses, and, of course, Macalester College, all of whom will be affected heavily by this process. 

After significant community input, the project will commence in phases to minimize disruption for locals and businesses. Phase 1 will begin the summer of 2024 between Fairview Ave. and Cambridge St. Phase 2, in Macalester’s section between Cambridge St. and Snelling Ave., will begin construction in 2025. 

Thru traffic will be closed during these two years, but the city maintains that local access to business and properties will remain open. Metro line 63 will be detoured to Summit Ave. 

The City of St. Paul’s project attempts to improve safety – considering the number of crashes in this corridor, with 151 crashes between 2011 and 2021 – and to update aging infrastructure. The city also maintains there will be improvements to transit experience and use for Grand Ave. businesses. A full list of improvements and maps can be found on the City of St. Paul’s website. 

The funding 

This project is one of the first to come from the “Common Cent” approach, where, in November 2023, St. Paul voters approved of a 1% increase in city sales tax to fund road and park improvements. The funding is also coming from municipal state aid, as well as assessments.

According to the City of Saint Paul, special assessments are “charges to specific properties for public improvements constructed or maintained by the City.” All abutting property owners who own land on Grand Ave. will help pay for the project by being assessed by how many square feet they own on the road.

Despite Macalester being tax-exempt, as an academic institution, they are required to pay special assessments. Thus, the college and tenants on Grand Ave. will pay for part of this project out of their pocket.

The assessments have not been made and will be determined at a public hearing in May. 

Macalester’s crossing

The project has had a lot of community and Macalester students’ input. The crossings between Macalester St. and Snelling Ave. on Macalester’s main campus were of particular interest for improvement.

A 2022 survey St. Paul conducted at Macalester cited that 51% of students used the crossing every day. 80% of those students “experienced issues” with crossing, citing a lack of cars yielding. 

According to the Minnesota State Law, Chapter 169.2.1, without a marked crosswalk, a pedestrian is prohibited from crossing a roadway at a location other than an intersection. Thus, the current system with the median and one-way traffic still follows the rules that every pedestrian has to yield to the right of way of vehicles.

Students were direct in their desire to cross midblock when, in 2004, the college tested options for the crossing and put up a fence to stop students from crossing at the midblock. Students responded clearly, as they broke and tore down the fence. 

“We can’t stop the students from crossing the street midblock — we’ve tried,” Deanna L. Seppanen, Director of Macalester’s High Winds Fund, said. “They’re going to do it anyway, and the medians helps at least drive the traffic to specific places.”

The project will create a raised crossing and establish an official pedestrian crossing – in line with the city’s survey of what Macalester students want. 

Local businesses

Aside from Macalester, Grand Ave. is home to many local businesses who will have to endure two plus years of closure, pay assessments and are already worried about the 1% increase in sales tax that made this project possible.

Director of St. Paul Operations, Nick Mangigian ’10, manager of St. Paul Cheese Shop and the St. Paul Meat Shop emphasized that although not ideal, it is necessary.

“I have a stake in it, I obviously want my livelihood and everyone that works here’s livelihoods to be protected,” Mangigian said. “I think my takeaway ultimately was: if you can make these kinds of investments without disrupting things, of course, you would. At the end of the day, you have to trust that the city is doing their best.”

Alex Ubbelodhe, the general manager of Patagonia on Grand Ave., wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly that the majority of the construction will take place during their slow season and the end result will help the environment around business. 

“For the project itself, our main concern was enhancing the pedestrian experience and safety,” Ubbelodge wrote. “We are happy with the additional sidewalk space and the crosswalk features that will improve safety. There is still work to be done in St. Paul to decrease the dependence on cars, but these are steps in the right direction.”

Seppanen emphasized that in order to help local business owners get through the construction, it is most important to support them as customers.

“Five years from now, or maybe less, Grand is going to be an amazing spot,” Seppanen said in a community informational meeting on March. 21. “In the immediacy, we just need to make sure [local businesses] get through this and are really supported by the local community.”

Despite the construction’s inconveniences to the street’s users and to Macalester, Seppanen emphasized that it remains a vital connection between Macalester and its urban environment.

“It’s an important street in the city, and it’s longer than our campus,” Seppanen said. “I think it really ties us into St. Paul in an important way, both physically, but also sort of figuratively. So, have patience and support the project.”

For updates on the project, sign up at the city’s website and for questions, contact Project Manager Chris Engelman at chris. [email protected] or (651) 266-6084.


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Emma Salomon
Emma Salomon, Editor-in-Chief
Emma Salomon '24 (she/her) is the Editor-in-Chief, from Ithaca, NY. She majors in History and International Studies with a minor in French and concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. She is passionate and a little too intense about her Google Calendar.   

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