Zanmiller envisions more ‘competitive’ WSP

These concept images show what a redesigned Robert Street might look like in West St. Paul after renovations set to begin next year. In his State of the City speech, Mayor Zanmiller described the $21 million renovations as critical for the city’s economic viability. (submitted graphics)

John Zanmiller

West St. Paul must adopt the competitive mentality of a private business if it hopes to flourish economically alongside younger suburban communities, according to Mayor John Zanmiller.

Zanmiller, in his March 26 State of the City address at City Hall, said West St. Paul had for years taken a complacent approach to economic development, while many nearby cities remained hungry for growth.

“We were blind to the fact that communities like Apple Valley and Burnsville and Lakeville were springing up, and we did not stay competitive with them,” Zanmiller said.

As a remedy, Zanmiller said the city is placing a strong emphasis on economic redevelopment in West St. Paul. He praised Community Development Director Jim Hartshorn and Council member Ed Iago, who also serves as chair of the Economic Development Authority, for their recent work on marketing West St. Paul to new and expanding businesses. Zanmiller also laid out a number of large-scale projects for the city he predicts will help to revitalize the city and increase its competitive edge when wooing businesses.

Robert Street renaissance

The overhaul of Robert Street through West St. Paul is the most high-profile of the plans Zanmiller touted. That project, currently in the design phase, calls for the reconstruction of a 2.5-mile stretch of Robert Street through West St. Paul. Zanmiller said the work, which includes changes to increase usability for multiple forms of transportation as well as aesthetic updates, would be key to preserving the city’s vitality.

“Robert Street was built quickly to the standards of the day,” Zanmiller explained. “The road is overburdened, unfriendly to pedestrians, has excessive number of traffic accidents; it has an unbelievably high number of egress and access points, and something needs to be done.”

According to Zanmiller, the estimated $21 million total price tag for the overhaul -- $16 million for construction -- marks the largest single project the city has ever undertaken.

Zanmiller supported the size of the investment by emphasizing the importance of Robert Street to businesses in the city; those businesses then benefit the residents, he pointed out, by lessening their tax burden.

“This is the front yard for all of the businesses that drive the economic engine that is West St. Paul,” Zanmiller said.

The project still faces hurdles, however, including the recent revelation that the city may be forced to add sound walls along portions of the road due to stipulations of a federal grant the city will rely on to cover the project cost. Zanmiller also noted that the project plans still require more than 30 separate reviews by the Minnesota Department of Transportation before they receive final approval.

“It’s just a wonder a road can get built in Minnesota,” he quipped.

City Hall renovations

Following Robert Street, Zanmiller said West St. Paul’s most important capital project would be an expansion and remodel of its City Hall. The current building, which Zanmiller described as having “all the warmth of a meat locker,” was built in 1969 and has become a source of concern in recent years because of mechanical failures, lack of compliance with Americans with Disability Act standards and a severe shortage of space.

“This building is tired and not functioning well,” Zanmiller said. “I say that because I’m 46 and feeling the same way.”

The city council is considering a $9.4 million renovation of the current building, which would house the expanded police department; the price includes adding space to house other departments. However, the city is also taking a renewed look at constructing a new building after a recent estimate showed a brand new building could cost only $2 million more.

Zanmiller said the work will address current problems and also increase functionality “not just for West St. Paul in 2019, but for West St. Paul in 2119, making the most of this space, increasing the environmental efficiency, and the workability, and the quality of the work that’s being done here.”

Luke Reiter can be reached at or at 651-748-7815.

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