Downtown Saint Paul – More Than Just Another Neighborhood in the “City of Neighborhoods”
Saint Paul is known as the “city of neighborhoods” and has been described as “fifteen small towns with one mayor.” Even so, the downtown Saint Paul neighborhood stands out.
Downtown Saint Paul is the city’s entertainment center, but there’s also plenty of vibrant history and culture, thriving businesses, entertainment opportunities, and scenic views. Consider . . .
“The heart of Saint Paul’s downtown beats with a legacy rich in entertainment, culture, art, architecture and legendary characters. The colorful and historic tales of saints and sinners have left their mark can be seen in Downtown’s nooks and crannies. With no shortage of bars and restaurants, you’ve got plenty of choices for dining before a Minnesota Wild game or a concert at Xcel Energy Center, Roy Wilkins, or the Palace Theatre. Not to mention, downtown’s gorgeous river views and bustling theater scene.”
But is it a good place to live . . . really?
Downtown Saint Paul History
Saint Paul and downtown Saint Paul actually had some pretty inauspicious beginnings. The city got its start, in fact, as the result of a distiller’s and bootlegger’s being run out of his former home.
“In the early 1800s, a camp of squatters and traders lived near Fort Snelling on the Mississippi River, the first European settlement in Minnesota. The fort commander took objection to one whiskey distiller, bootlegger, and trader called Pierre Parant, and forced him out of the settlement. Parrant, nicknamed ‘Pig’s Eye,’ eventually settled in what is now downtown St. Paul, and the settlement that grew up around his tavern on the east bank of the river became known as Pig’s Eye, too.”
As the “last natural landing for steamboats traveling upriver on the Mississippi,” Saint Paul became an “important trading site. In 1841, a Catholic chapel to Saint Paul was built on the bluffs above the landing, and the name of the settlement was changed to St. Paul. In 1849, the Minnesota Territory was formalized, with St. Paul as the capital.”
Later, in the 1920s and 30s, the city became a haven for gangsters from other major cities in the Midwest, with some of the places they frequented having become tourist attractions. Then in the mid-twentieth century, downtown saw a general decline and its population moving to the suburbs owing chiefly to economic difficulties. As a result, in the mid-70s, Saint Paul set in motion large-scale urban renewal projects with the goal of redeveloping the businesses and residential areas of downtown.
And, today, the neighborhood is a far cry from what it was.
The Neighborhood Today
Many residents consider downtown’s boundaries to be I-94 on the north and Kellogg Boulevard and the Mississippi River to the south. The official northern boundary, though, is University Avenue. “From the southwest, going clockwise, downtown is bordered by the West Seventh, Summit-University, Thomas-Dale (Frogtown), and Dayton’s Bluff neighborhoods on the same side of the Mississippi. The West Side neighborhood is directly across the Mississippi from downtown St. Paul.”
Located in Ramsey county and with a population of just a hair over 7,000, downtown Saint Paul is considered “one of the best places to live in Minnesota.” Most of the residents are renters, and it offers a “dense urban feel.” The abundance of “bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks” make it particularly attractive to young, liberal-leaning professionals.
Saint Paul’s downtown is home to Xcel Energy, Cray Plaza, and Wells Fargo Place, as well as to one of the oldest parks in the country, Rice Park (among others). It boasts a good number of quality places for drinking and dining, such as the bars and restaurants in the Mears Park area along Wabasha and St. Peter Streets. And the extensive skyway system connects most of the major office buildings, thus avoiding foot-traffic congestion.
Downtown is also home to several major businesses, corporations, and educational institutions, for example, Ecolab, which has been headquartered there since 1933. In addition, in 1989, “Twin Cities PBS relocated to its current location in downtown. In 1997, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System moved its headquartered into the Wells Fargo Place. . . . In 2005, Gander Mountain relocated to downtown. Securian Financial Group is located in the Securian Center and is the largest private employer in downtown with 2,600 employees. Travelers Insurance maintains a large presence downtown, employing 2,000 people. In 2009 supercomputer manufacturer Cray Inc. relocated to become the anchor tenant of the Cray Plaza in downtown.”
Downtown Saint Paul Neighborhood Stats
So now let’s take a statistical look at the area as a place to live.
For Saint Paul in general:
- The unemployment rate is 3.4%, below the national average of 3.7%.
- For the next decade job growth is projected to be 35.9%, above the national average of 33.5%.
- The sales tax rate is 7.9%, which is slightly above the national average at 7.3%.
- The median annual household income is $48,258, below the US average of $53,482.
Now when it comes to downtown Saint Paul, here’s what we find:
- Median home value: $235,232
- Median rent: $963
- Homeowners: 18%
- Renters: 82%
And here are the livability scores/grades from Niche:
- Public schools: B-
- Housing: B-
- Family suitability: A+
- Crime/safety: A+
- Nightlife: A+
- Diversity: A
- Overall: A+
Now, let’s take a look at some specific aspects of downtown Saint Paul . . .
Arts and Culture
“Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Rice Park has theater, opera, ballet and children’s performances. The Landmark Center contains the TRACES World War II History Center, the Schubert Club Museum of Musical Instruments and several other exhibits. Downtown St. Paul also has the Fitzgerald Theater, the Park Square Theatre, and the History Theatre. A small art gallery, the Minnesota Museum of American Art, is on the Mississippi river bank.”
Although not on the same level as downtown Minneapolis when it comes to shopping, downtown Saint Paul does offer quite a bit, including a large Macy’s. There are also top-notch independent stores like downtown’s own renowned Heime’s Haberdashery, as well as the Artist Mercantile, an art and gift store.
There’s also the St. Paul Farmers Market, “held on Saturday and Sunday during the summer in Lowertown, the eastern section of downtown.” In addition, there’s a satellite farmer’s market in the Seventh Place Mall, open on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Dining and Drinking
We’ve already touched on this, but there’s still more in the way of restaurants. “From eponymous 24-hour Mickey’s Diner Car and casual Key’s Cafe to the divine Meritage and the upmarket St. Paul Grill. International options include Fuji-Ya, Pazzaluna, Senor Wong and Ruam Mit Thai Cafe, often touted as the best Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities.”
One of the places where downtown really shines is in the area of sports. The main sporting venue, for example, is the world-renowned Xcel Energy Center, noted especially for ice hockey events. The X, as it’s locally known, also hosts other sporting events, as well as music concerts and conferences.
Most of the housing in Saint Paul’s downtown is apartments, condos, studios, and lofts. In addition, “[t]here are a few new high-rise condo developments, and old warehouses and commercial spaces converted into modern apartments and lofts.”
Do be aware, though, that those apartments in buildings situated on the skyway are definitely more expensive. And, of course, for car owners, parking adds to that expense.
The breakdown on various modes of transportation runs like this:
- Walking – “The easiest way to get around is usually by foot. Downtown St. Paul is quite compact, and the skyway system connects most major buildings and attractions.”
- Driving – There is in fact plenty of parking, but it’s not cheap. Nearly all street parking is metered though it’s in the evenings and on Sundays.
- Public Transportation – Downtown’s public transport is abundant and easily accessible, with several bus routes serving the area. The METRO Green Light Rail, for example, connects downtown Saint Paul with downtown Minneapolis.
The Verdict . . .
Downtown Saint Paul isn’t quite what downtown Minneapolis is, and detached single-family residences are actually pretty scarce. But there are also considerations about the Saint Paul area in general to factor in . . .
- Easy access
- Diverse population
- Notable Landmarks
- Natural beauty
- High living standard and excellent services
- Great Healthcare options
- Plenty of educational opportunities
- Job growth and low unemployment
When you take all these things into account, downtown does seem to be a pretty good place to live.