A dispute over encroachment upon a downtown St. Paul skyway could be settled this month. The St. Paul City Attorney’s Office and NEA Galtier have asked a group of St. Paul residents for more time to resolve the issue. A response is expected Dec. 18.
At issue is how the city has allowed the Cray computer firm to encroach upon the skyway area of Galtier Plaza in downtown St. Paul. Four St. Paul residents and business owners sued the city last month, alleging that the city has illegally given Cray skyway space that actually belongs to the public.
The skyways are a public easement through buildings and above streets in downtown St. Paul. Cray recently relocated its workers from Mendota Heights to Galtier Plaza, now known as Cray Plaza, 380 Jackson St.
The four plaintiffs in the case are John Mannillo, a downtown building own and community activist; downtown resident and disability advocate Rick Cardenas; Lower-town Foods store owner Elizabeth Frederick and Jeanne Hall, a downtown resident.
The four contend that two sections of skyway space in Galtier Plaza have been improperly given away. One is a stretch of skyway that has been cut off from public use for at lest 10 years. The other is a skyway section leading from Galtier to the downtown YMCA. The four allege that the skyway was narrowed by several inches to provide space for Cary. A third concern, raised at a November press conference, is that Cray officials are apparently posting at least one skyway seating area as private space.
“The precedent is what we are having a real problem with,” said Mannillo. He has been involved with development of skyway policies for many years, as a building owner and longtime member of the downtown CapitolRiver Council. He said if the city starts allowing building owners and tenants to encroach upon the skyway, access will be much more difficult for everyone. “It would be like giving away chunks of the sidewalk. We’re talking about public property.”
Cardenas said the narrowness of the skyway in Galtier makes it difficult for people in wheelchairs to pass through the area. “It’s hard for one chair to get through there, let alone for two chairs to pass,” he said.
The legal complaint calls for NEA Galtier to pay the city rent for the 600 square feet of sidewalk space that were taken away.
City officials contend that they acted properly in issuing the building permit for the work along the skyway. The City Attorney’s Office issued a statement saying they believe the city acted properly.
Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) Director Bob Kessler has said that the amount of space approved for the remodeling is smaller than what Cray had originally requested. The company had planned to display a computer in the skyway but dropped those plans. That meant less skyway space was needed.
Kessler also indicated that the city would look into the issue raised about the skyway connection that was closed several years ago.