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Neighbors Speak Out: Dear Design Team & City Constituents
| 7.11
Neighbors Speak Out: Cossetta's Waiver Challenged
| 6.11

Neighbors Speak Out: Dear Design Team & City Constituents[IMAGE]

Editor’s Note: Members of the West End Advisory Committee have made major contributions to the Great River Park design process. As the Master Plan was made public in June, the group provided a summary of its central ideas about the process and the plan.

photo: Kent Petterson speaks with NPR’s Rupa Shenoy at the GRP Master Plan meeting. credit: Lou “The Photo Guy” Michaels

Dear Design Team and interested city constituents:

We would like to commend the Wenk Associates led design team, and all those who have participated, for their work in the Great River Park Master Plan effort unveiled on June 16. We are heartened by the great plan that we have observed developing over these past months. There is so much that is good for the City and for the West Seventh neighborhood. Much that is good has happened in our neighborhood over recent years, and the GRP Master Plan should be a plan that extends that trend to the river’s edge for many years to come. We think it can do this but it has one glaring negative exception that could be a deal breaker in our neighborhood.

Our local Advisory Committee members have repeatedly expressed opposition to a plan endorsing a suggested soccer complex of four fields and high standard sports lighting and all the implied traffic for the park and neighborhood disruption. The concept remains in the plan unchanged, even though the District 9 Fort Road Federation neighborhood has officially taken a position in opposition to a sports complex soccer field use at Victoria Community Park.

Please note the following that may not have been considered:
  • We do not believe that the sports complex and all the other plans for Victoria Park fit in the space available.
  • It is too early to highlight, we think impose, such a specific use for Victoria Park.
  • A sports-lighted complex on the edge of the river valley does not respect the stated goal for the plan of “more natural.” Light pollution, noise pollution, visual blight, and choice between soccer balls in the valley or a tall screen fence to prevent it come to mind.
  • Proposed housing adjacent to the site and the existing Sholom Home elderly and hospice residents are not respected with this use.
  • The promised overlook at Victoria Park is not currently in the plan. Why?
  • The fact that “promised” money is available is not a good reason to include a controversial park use in the plan.
  • The District 9 Fort Road Federation has sent a letter to the City Council requesting the question of specific uses of Victoria Park be studied in a comprehensive way.
  • We believe that approval of the GRP Master Plan is not a given. It is our opinion that the City Council will not approve the plan with these soccer fields described as they are for Victoria Park.
  • We believe that a strongly supported plan at the city level will have a much better chance of approval by the Metropolitan Council. Key parts of the plan, such as the change of character for Shepard Road to a parkway, will likely have opposition that must be strongly resisted, as the plan is supported by all in St. Paul and all that love the river and what this plan represents.
We request removal of all illustrations and specific references to four lighted soccer fields at Victoria Park in the GRP Master Plan. Please do not include this controversial proposal at this stage of the plan.

Thanks, West End GRP Advisory Committee Members: Kent Petterson, John Ulven, Andrew Hine, John Yust, Betty Moran, Tonya Nicholie-Johnson. Additional Signatories: City Council Member Dave Thune, Board of Directors, District 9 Fort Road Federation, Nadja Berneche, Edie Meissner, Deb Padgett, Jo Craighead, Jerry Rothstein and Diane Gerth.

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Cossetta's Waiver Challenged
| 6.11

Four years ago a coalition of faith, community, and labor organizations of this great city won a campaign to pass the Living Wage Ordinance of St. Paul. This ordinance says that any company receiving a large amount of public money should pay their workers a “living wage,” defined very simply, as paying a worker enough to meet basic needs. It was a concept made popular in the early 1900s by Father John A Ryan, alumnus of The University of St. Thomas and world-renowned scholar of economic justice. Today in our city, a living wage would be $11.82 per hour with decent health care benefits, or $13.98 per hour without.

Some of us depend on an hourly wage job to support our families, and all of us depend on hourly wage workers to help us get through our day. We don’t always see the people who are washing our dishes, cooking our food, stocking the shelves, and cleaning the bathrooms, but we certainly reap the benefits of their hard work.

Unfortunately, these same people have recently been sent a very clear message from six of our seven City Council members. “You are not all that important. We waive your right to a living wage.” All members but Ward 4’s Russ Stark voted to give Cossetta’s restaurant a $1.7 million forgivable loan while also exempting the business from the Living Wage Ordinance.

There are many reasons why this decision does not make sense, not the least of which is that citizens of our city value each other as human beings and want dignified wages for our neighbors. Of course, if you need financial motivation, then how about the fact that it actually harms St. Paul’s economy to give a business free money and then to have to support its workers with public assistance when they can’t provide basic needs to their families?

This is not a sustainable business model for our city’s subsidy monies. We should be strategic about the money that we are investing. Giving subsidies to businesses that pay a living wage means that the local economy is boosted by both the success of the business and by the lifting-up of the St. Paul residents who work there.

I am deeply disappointed in the decision of the City Council. St. Paul is currently suffering school and recreation center closings, record foreclosures, and rising debt. It is time that our City Council members commit to attaching standards to the public resources we give to for-profit businesses so that we are all working together to solve the critical problems of our city.

The living wage was the right idea in the early 1900s when Father Ryan campaigned to make it national law, it was the right thing to do in 2007 when St. Paul passed the Living Wage Ordinance, and it is the right thing to do today. We cannot just waive economic justice aside because of our selfish love of great mostaccioli and artisan breads.

Martha Skold
West End Resident, St. Paul

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Reflections on the Housing, Redevelopment Authority (HRA) Vote on Cossetta's Expansion
| 6.11
Editor’s Note: Thune is the Ward 2 City Council member and Chair of the HRA. The original St. Paul Living Wage Ordinance can be found at

by Dave Thune

Cossetta’s, a restaurant operating at Upper Landing and West Seventh Street for 100 years, will more than double in size with the help of city financing. This project is valuable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that currently over 70% of Cossetta’s employees live in St. Paul and West St. Paul and are part of our community. Cossetta’s exceeds most common industry standards in its rate of pay and benefits (providing health care benefits, vacation and 401(k) contributions). The HRA vote did not exempt them from the Living Wage Ordinance (LWO). It provided a waiver based on Dave Cossetta’s testimony and commitment to pay the mandated wages to 75% of his full-time workforce.

At the Council hearing, Cossetta committed to continue all benefits and increase all his workers’ salaries by 3%. Now, 81% of full-time jobs will earn a living wage. Once construction is completed, 75-100 new employees will be hired — 75% of them at LWO wages.

Some have contended that the waivers are a loophole that “one could drive a truck through.” However, there have only been three waivers granted in 14 years. We have successfully avoided funding mini-malls and fast food restaurants that pay minimum wage. As the author of the Living Wage Ordinance, I am quite familiar with its provisions. We always anticipated that the hospitality industry might need waivers, so this option was included from the very beginning. Even without waivers, not every compliant business pays 100% of its employees a living wage. That is because the ordinance says that all recipients of city financing must pay their employees a living wage OR be unionized. There are part-time employees in both union groceries and union restaurants who do not earn living wages, but their employers would meet the requirements of the living wage law simply by virtue of being unionized.
[IMAGE]The City’s financing for Cossetta’s is $2 million of a total $10.5 million project, so the City’s investment will be more than quadrupled by a private investment of $8.5 million:

• $1.17 million is a grant that is called a forgivable loan made possible by the state legislature consolidating money left over from other Tax Incentive Fund (TIF) districts around the city.
• $437,000 is a market rate loan that must be repaid, at whatever our standard lending rate is, but with a three-year delay. The three-year delay is very common to allow for completion of construction and time to get a new venture running at full tilt.
• $388,000 will be issued as a new TIF district, which must be paid back through real estate taxes.

This project develops Cossetta’s into a regional destination, which will be a benefit to the city by attracting “new” money. Visit St. Paul, our convention and visitors bureau, cites Cossetta’s as a regional draw with the expansion already touted as an enticement for convention planners. From an economic viewpoint, “new” money is always better than a project that simply circulates existing money through the economy.

We also considered our funding source. The 2010 State Legislature passed an economic stimulus package intended to invest in shovel-ready projects to create construction jobs by July 2011. During construction, 200-250 union construction workers will be employed. McGough, the union construction contractor hired for this job, estimates the contract will require 50,000 worker hours of labor (25 full-time equivalent jobs) at more than living wage.

I feel strongly that in addition to highly paid employees in high tech industries, St. Paul residents need well-paid blue collar job opportunities. When the Living Wage Ordinance was first adopted, we had numerous competing real estate deals. Now we are recovering from a deep recession and high unemployment.

I am a strong union supporter. I would support a union in any St. Paul restaurant. However, I also know that Cossetta’s current wages compare very favorably to union shop wages. The pay and benefit structure rivals that of any restaurant in the Twin Cities. It would be difficult to find a restaurant that has more good will among its neighbors.

Cossetta’s expansion will be a regional draw bringing precious new dollars into St. Paul, will be a beautiful amenity for West 7th Street residents, will leverage four times its value in private investment, and will provide 75 new jobs to West Enders who have been unemployed for far too long in our jobless recovery. It’s all good for Ward 2.

Minimum vs Living Wage
Minnesota’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. This is the same as the Federal minimum wage. Small employers (enterprise with annual receipts of less than $625,000) can pay a minimum wage of only $5.25. The idea of a living wage refers to the minimum hourly wage necessary for an individual to meet basic needs, including housing, food, utilities, transport, health care, and recreation. St. Paul’s Living Wage Ordinance, originally passed in 1997 and revised in 2007, defines a living wage as 130 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four ($13.97 for 2011) or 110 percent ($11.82 for 2011) if the employer provides basic health insurance.

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