St. Paul’s Union Depot: historic, grand, underused

July 19, 2015

Note: Minnesota is making an effort to ultimately add a second Chicago-Minneapolis/St. Paul daily passenger train roundtrip frequency.

 

St. Paul’s Union Depot is a celebrated landmark, painstakingly restored to connect passengers to the city’s past as well as their destinations.

But bring it up at the water cooler, and talk often turns to its price tag. This year, Union Depot will spend $6 million more than it collects. The lone retailer — aside from a small arcade in a sublevel — is a restaurant that was there before it was refurbished. And ridership numbers — while growing — have a long way to go before they meet projections of the site’s full potential. All this after $243 million was spent to restore it.

“It doesn’t go a week that somebody doesn’t stop me in the street and say, ‘You threw away my money,’ ” said Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, who fought from the beginning for the Depot project. “How do you put a price on quality of life, mobility of community, which has a huge impact on economic situation?”

If you can’t put a price, you can put a cost. Ramsey County says the Depot is bringing in $1.7 million in revenue, but costing $7.7 million to operate. That’s up from 2014, when revenues were $1.5 million and operating expenses $6 million — a $4.5 million gap.

Ortega, who is chair of the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, and other county officials say the site was never meant to be a direct revenue generator. They note repeatedly that ridership, foot traffic and the Depot’s long-term social and economic benefits may not be realized until years — perhaps decades.

 

 

Read reporter Tad Vezner’s full story in the St. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer Press by clicking here.

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