St. Louis Park’s lobbying efforts paid off at the federal level last year, and this year the city is seeking state funding for projects as well.
The city’s legislative priorities include requests for roads, housing, a commercial center and a partnership with other cities that would test new electrical technology in demonstration homes.
To aid its efforts at the federal level, St. Louis Park last year paid $36,000 to Primacy Strategic Group, a lobbying firm based in Washington, D.C. This year, the budget for the group will increase to $60,000 due to a contract update, according to the city.
At the state level, the city plans to spend $48,000 this year on lobbying from the St. Paul-based Park Street Public lobbying firm.
Through congressionally directed spending, commonly known as earmarks, the city obtained $2 million in federal funding for the reconstruction of Cedar and Louisiana avenues, St. Louis Park Civic Engagement Coordinator Michael Sund said at a Jan. 9 City Council work session. Through another process in which the Metropolitan Council distributes federal resources, the city obtained another $7 million for the work. With a total estimated cost of $20 million, the city is seeking a state contribution as well.
The city requested the congressionally directed spending to fund the bike and pedestrian portion of the road projects, according to Jacque Smith, communications and technology director for the city.
“The city noted the regional nature of the projects as well as the importance of these corridors for people of color and marginalized communities that live along these routes and deserve a safe and reliable way to get to work, school or other activities,” Smith said in a statement.
Through other congressionally directed spending requests by Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Tina Smith, the city secured half of the $6 million estimated for a multifamily land trust project.
Smith explained, “This unique program would set an example for how (naturally occurring affordable housing) properties could be preserved, rehabbed with climate-conscious improvements and prevent gentrification and displacement of low-income households. The building would be sold to a nonprofit or mission-driven developer, with the land held in trust by an existing land trust or the city, keeping rents affordable in perpetuity.”
St. Louis Park Community Development Director Karen Barton said the city has not identified a specific property yet.
“We have a number of properties that we’ve got our eye on,” she said.
Another project benefiting from federal funds would include a partnership among St. Louis Park, Edina and Eden Prairie to electrify demonstration homes to train workers, educate residents and test technology, according to a city staff report. Federal requests from Omar, Klobuchar and Smith provided half of the $2 million cost estimated for the project.
“We’re hoping it’ll have a regional impact so that they can see a variety of different homes and different ways to electrify your home,” Sund said.
Brian Hoffman, director of buildings and energy for the city, explained that the concept would help demonstrate the ability for homes to function without natural gas, with heat pumps for climate control and with electric water heaters and stoves.
“The idea is to help our local businesses realize that there’s a market for this (and) get them engaged with the technologies that work in Minnesota,” Hoffman said.
Smith said, “Each retrofit project will aim to reduce energy burden for underserved residents, provide opportunities for contractors to train on these new technologies and offer prototypes of technologies Minnesotans can install today to reduce carbon use.”
The affordable commercial center idea would cost an estimated $4 million, with the city securing $2.16 million so far. That includes a $380,000 grant from Hennepin County. The city’s Economic Development Authority already spent $1.79 million to buy property at 4300 West 36 1/2 St. last year. Build-out costs are estimated at $1.3 million.
The property is the former home of Second Debut, a secondhand fashion and art store on the corner of Excelsior Boulevard and West 36 1/2 Street. With the plan, the city would sell the property to a land trust, which would own the land itself while selling spaces within the building to small businesses at a lower-than-typical cost.
“It’s difficult for small business owners, in particular, to find commercial space that’s affordable,” Sund said.
In seeking state funds for the projects, he said, “We feel that if we’re able to collaborate even further on them, they may be even more successful.”
Separate from the city requests, Omar announced last month that a federal appropriations bill included $3 million for facilities and equipment at the St. Louis Park nonprofit Perspectives Inc., which is focused on women and children impacted by homelessness, poverty and addiction. The funds are part of the organization’s Seed the Change Capital Campaign, which would rehabilitate and expand an existing family center. In 2021, the Legislature provided $4.5 million for the project through bonding. The nonprofit also received a planning grant of $600,000 from the state in 2017. The nonprofit’s website says the campaign is seeking to raise $15.5 million.
The city is not a recipient of the Perspectives funds but did provide letters of support for the funding, Smith said.
Top policy priorities
Rep. Cheryl Youakim and Rep. Larry Kraft met with Park Street Public lobbyists Melissa Reed and Ian Marsh, council members and city staff about the proposals at the city work session.
On the street projects, Youakim remarked, “I’m just excited you didn’t say local option sales tax for roads.”
St. Louis Park had previously considered seeking state approval for a city sales tax to pay for work on Cedar Lake Road, Louisiana Avenue and several other major streets in the city. After debate, the council majority ultimately rejected the idea based on impacts to residents and small businesses. As a council member, Kraft opposed the sales tax concept.
Beyond money for projects, St. Louis Park leaders stressed five other areas as legislative priorities. They include a state energy code that “allows for the adoption of more efficient energy standards,” local control for emergency management services, a permanent extension of state authority to use tax-increment financing funds for affordable housing beyond a 2025 expiration date, full state funding for worker’s compensation premiums related to disabled public safety officers – which currently costs the city $1.2 million for the year – and increased funding for a Pathways to Policing program aimed at diversifying the candidate pool for new officers. St. Louis Park has hired an officer each year through the existing pathways program.
The city also presented priorities related to cannabis, aircraft noise, open meeting laws that would allow more flexible use of technology and remote participation, cybersecurity grants, emergency housing assistance and urban forestry, including grants to respond to the emerald ash borer.
St. Louis Park is supporting a law that allows adults to use cannabis as well as clarification about a law last year that legalized edible cannabis products. The city joined many other municipalities in requiring licenses for the products and setting additional limits.
The city expressed concern about international airport changes that could increase noise in St. Louis Park. The potential expanded use of a relatively new electronic navigation system could lead to more aircraft using a narrow flight path over St. Louis Park instead of distributing noise more broadly, the staff report indicates.
“Current departure tracks fan out, essentially distributing noise pollution from departing aircraft over a large area of residential neighborhoods in several cities,” the report says.
A past proposal for departures included a track directly over St. Louis Park.
“Noise pollution from frequent flights, which could occur every 2 to 3 minutes on a busy day, can have a negative effect on quality of life,” the report says, adding that home mitigation for noise intrusion ends about one mile east of St. Louis Park’s border along France Avenue.
“There is no plan to expand the area of mitigation related to the increase in traffic,” the report says.
The city’s position is that state and federal governments should support a public process before expanding use of the navigation system at the airport and research how the system “could be used to intentionally distribute departing aircraft noise more equitably while also considering the environmental impact of the change.”
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