Skyway access in St. Paul generates more debates

Bringing Cray Research to downtown St. Paul is a boon for the city, but is it going to be a […]

skyways1Bringing Cray Research to downtown St. Paul is a boon for the city, but is it going to be a bane for those who use skyways? Narrowing of the skyway in Cray Plaza (formerly Galtier Plaza) has raised red flags for skyway users, including members of the downtown disability community. Capitol-River Council, the district council representing the downtown area, also has concerns. Debate over changes to the skyway is expected to continue this fall.

 The district council’s development committee voted in August to support Cray’s plans for renovations around the second-floor skyway areas, with the understanding that the square footage of public skyway space would be equal to or greater than the amount of space before.

 The district council’s Skyway Governance Committee is pushing for the skyway to be 12 feet wide. That recommendation goes to the full district council in September. Cray officials and the company’s architect say the skyway renovations, when completed, will meet accessibility requirements. Department of Safety and Inspections Director Robert Kessler said the plans do meet requirements Downtown resident and Advocating Change Together (ACT) Co-Director Rick Cardenas said people with disabilities are very concerned about the narrow passageways in part of the skyway.

 “Personally, I think the city is 50-50 on how they view physical accessibility for persons with disabilities in St. Paul. I think that there has been an ongoing disregard for persons with disabilities as city policy.” He wants skyway width to remain at 12 feet and to avoid creating pinch points where none existed before.

 Cray began remodeling the building, which overlooks Mears Park, this summer. The company will move more than 200 workers to downtown St. Paul from Mendota Heights. City officials are proud to have landed the company. Mayor Chris Coleman used the building as a setting for his 2010 city budget address. But as preparations got underway for that move, walls began to go up along the skyway, narrowing the passages.

 
Cray officials contend that when the remodeling is complete there will be a net gain of 500 square feet of space for skyway users, allowing easier access through that building and to its neighbors including the YMCA. Architect Kevin Rolfes said the access would be improved and that Cray would meet standards for access. The changes have met with skepticism not because of Cray but because of what changes could mean for other skyways. “There are building owners who’d like to lease skyway space to private developers,” said John Mannillo, a longtime downtown property owner and manager. But doing so would set a precedent for the entire skyway system.
“When we slowly start dismantling the skyway system we take it away from everyone in the city.” Skyway access can also be impacted as buildings change in use ands tenants over the years. ‘”It (Galtier) was built to be a much more public building than it is now,” said Bob Spaulding, a longtime CapitolRiver Council board and committee member. He said that while many welcome Cray and the jobs and people it brings, the changes to the skyway and potential for precedent-setting have to be considered.