State of the Citytackles gov’t aid, foreclosures

Mayor Coleman also spoke at length about the Central Corridor light rail.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman gave his annual State of the City address Wednesday to a packed auditorium at the new Wilder Foundation Center, where he tackled subjects such as dwindling government aid, the possible recession and home foreclosures.

Instead of a standard mayoral speech, the event included samples of St. Paul culture before addressing the progress and challenges the city is dealing with.

A drum circle performed by students from SteppingStone Theatre, a poem from St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connelly and a spoken-word piece from Tou Saiko Lee of the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent were all included prior to the official business.

“These are the words, we hope, to inspire you to be more actively engaged in my communities,” Lee read.

Kathy Lantry, St. Paul City Council president, gave the address’s opening remarks.

“St. Paul is a strong city,” she said. “Our livable neighborhoods, our successful business districts, our thriving arts community are a few of the positive signs that the city is doing well.”

The city is still facing its share of difficulties, she said, including reduced local government aid, a looming recession and excessive home foreclosures.

Coleman, who was fighting off a “spring cold,” addressed moving forward from the opportunities that cease during a difficult economy.

“Sometimes I feel like Rodney Dangerfield while being mayor at a time like this,” Coleman joked. “I don’t get no respect.”

Despite the challenges, Coleman said he is optimistic for the St. Paul community.

“We don’t have the choice of whether we face a life without obstacles,” he said. “The choice that we have is what we’re going to do to overcome those obstacles.”

A slide show, appropriately set to Dean Martin’s “On the Street Where You Live,” provided an insight into projects the city has been focusing on, including opening new restaurants, recreation centers and other facilities.

Schools, churches, libraries and other organizations have come together to serve the city, he said.

Coleman’s speech also emphasized the importance of youth and education in the community.

He addressed facilities that would allow students to be mentored and take tennis and cooking lessons, instead of staying at home glued to the television screen.

He said facilities are important “so kids can be kids again.”

According to Coleman’s two- year progress report, he has established a preschool scholarship program to promote kindergarten readiness and reduce the achievement gap.

“I don’t think there’s better testimony to who we are as a community and what our values are and what we’re doing than what we’re doing in the field of education,” he said. “We are making St. Paul the education city in America.”

Coleman is working to bring nearly $1 billion in investments to the city, according to the report, including expanding hospitals, creating new jobs and investing in facilities.

In addition, Coleman spoke at length of the Central Corridor light rail.

“This isn’t just about moving people from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis,” he said. “It’s about building community. It’s about restoring hope on this avenue.”

Coleman said the Republican National Convention in September will give St. Paul its moment in the spotlight, to tell the story of its community.