St. Paul’s downtown skyway tower closes December 27 and will remain closed until physical changes can be made to the structure. Both the tower building and a portion of the adjoining skyway connection to the Alliance Bank Center are owned and operated by Metro Transit.
That means people with disabilities who rely on the tower elevator must travel to the bank building on the next block to use the elevator there.
St. Paul and Metro Transit Police departments said safety changes need to be made in the skyway tower and connecting skyways and until those are made, the tower will be closed. One issue is that people loiter and use the windows as a lookout. Many windows will be covered to deter that behavior.
Interim Metro Transit Police Chief Rick Grates described the longtime situation as a “perch” where people who commit crimes can watch out for potential victims.
In the meantime, Metro Transit brought in private security guards to help them patrol the skyways. More cameras and even an intercom system are being considered. City and Metro Transit leaders will look at the situation each month.
The area already has security cameras.
Metro Transit and city officials did not announce a timeline for when the building will re-open, but a group of leaders will re-evaluate every month.
Metro Transit released a statement, saying, “In conjunction with the City of St. Paul, we have decided to temporarily close the building at 46 5th St. E., which connects the skyway and street level near the METRO Green Line’s Central Station effective Tuesday, December 27. We are temporarily closing this facility so we can work alongside the City of St. Paul and its police department to make physical and operational public safety improvements at this location.”
“We recognize the importance of maintaining access to transit, as well as all the other surrounding amenities, and will work closely with our partners to re-open soon. Elevator access to the skyway will continue to be available daily from 6 a.m. to midnight at Alliance Bank Center. Outside of normal business hours, guard access is required.”
The closing comes after two men were shot and killed inside the tower December 12. The tower connects Green Line light rail Central Station and major bus connecting stops to the skyway.
At a virtual town hall meeting days before Christmas, City Council Member Rebecca Noecker said, “We’re here because last week in a horrific event, two young men lost their lives.”
Skyway users, including several people with disabilities, said they are concerned about a lack of safety in the skyways prior to the murders. They said a growing number of people use drugs, consume alcohol, urinate and defecate in the skyways and in
stairwells. Some skyway users have ben crime victims. One speaker described downtown St. Paul recently as “almost a dystopian, lawless, chaotic place where hordes of individuals congregate freely using drugs.”
Several downtown residents with disabilities contacted Access Press. Many moved downtown in recent years for what they considered to be safe and accessible housing, convenient to shopping and good transit,. But many now feel afraid.
The victims of the shooting are 18-year-old David Johnson and 21-year-old Ellijah Payne, both of St. Paul. Police believe the shooting was not a random act. Arrests hadn’t been announced as of this writing.
A big frustration is how many people with disabilities, including the late Rick Cardenas, fought for the tower. Central Station is on the block at Fifth and Cedar streets, near the connections to several skyways.
Groundbreaking for the tower, which cost more than $1 million, occurred in summer 2013 after a high-profile campaign to get some kind of elevator connection built. At the time the tower was built, it was estimated that more than 9,000 people with disabilities were living in downtown St. Paul within a few block of Green Line light rail.
Of the downtown light rail stations, Green Line was the most heavily used by disabled transit riders, with about 2,000 boardings per day. The numbers are based on a study done almost a decade ago by the now-defunct District Councils Collaborative, a group that monitored light rail construction.
Jane McClure, Editor