July 10, 2016
Downtown, West Side
I frequently look at maps of Saint Paul. Call it a “blogupational” hazard. Sometimes I’ll plan a ride with the help of Google Maps. Occasionally I’ll use an official City of Saint Paul paper map. Street maps from the mid and late- 1800s to the 2010s are invaluable for research. Whenever I write, I refer to the official map of the ride created by my GPS.
Now and then a close inspection of a map reveals a puzzling or exotic feature that leads me to ride there. So it was that I inadvertently found on Google Maps a rectangular section of water jutting off the Mississippi River on the city’s West Side. I zoomed in until the unlikely name of this body of water – The Gulf of Minneapolis – appeared.
Why would there be such an absurdly named place in Saint Paul? Could it have been faint praise to christen such a small and geographically insignificant spot after Saint Paul’s twin? Why isn’t this sliver of water on official City of Saint Paul maps? In addition to laying my eyes on the Gulf of Minneapolis, I hoped the ride would answer some of these questions.
Before getting to the West Side, I passed through part of Downtown Saint Paul, which overwhelms me every time I ride there. Between the multitude of architectural styles, structures, the depth of history, and the variety of people, there is a plethora to shoot, research and write about.
One example is the 15 foot tall tower at Kellogg Boulevard and Eagle Street. There is no marker, plaque, or cornerstone to explain what it is and why this exists.
This unconventional construction project is to stabilize the bluff for future development. It is where the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center (jail) stood from 1979 until demolition began 2015. The pictures were taken from the north end of the Wabasha Street Bridge.
My travels continued south-southeast via the Wabasha Street Bridge over the Mississippi River to the West Side, where Wabasha began to climb up the sandstone bluffs. I paused to consider the undulating retaining wall on the west side of Wabasha decorated with large letters.
Wabasha Street continues south-southeast, but in a couple of blocks, it abruptly becomes Cesar Chavez Street. Wabasha doesn’t end there. Rather, it peals off straight south at the same intersection. See the map below.
The street name change at this corner isn’t new. Decades before being rechristened Cesar Chavez Street in honor of the late labor and civil rights activist, it was called Concord Street.
The intersection of Wabasha, Cesar Chavez and Wabasha marks the western edge of District Del Sol, the main commercial area on the West Side, which has a distinctly Mexican flavor. Although I all but passed through District Del Sol, I did stop for a couple of the sites that make this part of Saint Paul distinctive and enjoyable to visit.
Among the many artistic touches are unique, colorful garbage bins and benches.
There is a small, semicircular “parklet” formed by the curved intersection of Cesar Chavez and Wabasha Streets. This unlabeled space consists of a handful of shrubs, a couple dozen diminutive clay works and a wall of reliefs.
A close look at two of the clay tiles. (above)
From Radio Rey I followed Cesar Chavez Street east for a mile, in which time it became Concord Street.
A left turn on Barge Channel Road brought me to the entrance to the Saint Paul Port Authority’s Southport River Terminal, and closer to the Gulf of Minneapolis.
The Southport River Terminal is highly industrial. Built in 1964 by the Port Authority, it’s not surprising that the 99 or 119 (depending upon the source) acres of land here align with the idea city planners had in the 1960s – that the property along the Mississippi River was great for industry, not recreation. More than 50 years later, little has changed in the use of the land within the Southport River Terminal boundaries. In fact, the Port Authority hopes to increase not only barge traffic, but railroad access by extending existing tracks.
Southport is less than a quarter mile from homes and apartments, and not much farther from a church and school. West Side residents concerned about environmental, health and safety issues at Southport, pushed the city for a study of air quality resulting from the heavy industry. The Southport Industrial District Study began at the end of 2015 and was released just over two years later. The study supported residents’ concerns about air quality and among the 14 recommended was reducing dust and the idling of trains and trucks.
Industry and the jobs they create are important for Saint Paul. My trepidation is about the location of the Southport Terminal, as the West Side is predominately home to people below Saint Paul’s median income.
Barge Channel Road, the only street within Southport Terminal, is loathed by nearly all who know it. That’s because Barge Channel Road is the location of one of two of the police department’s infamous impound lots.
Many a careless, lazy or uninformed auto owner has had her or his car towed to 830 Barge Channel Road for a snow emergency violation. Should you have the misfortune of getting your vehicle towed to this lot, it’s going to set you back a minimum of $56 for the parking ticket that got you towed plus at least $266 more to get your car back.
Barge Channel Road ends in a cul-de-sac, which is where the impound lot office is.
While photographing the impound lot I was questioned twice by employees who were suspicious of my activities, even though I stood on the public right-of-way at all times.
The Southport River Terminal is dominated by metal recyclers. Despite its proximity to the Mississippi River, it’s not a place with much of a view. With the volume of scrap and other trappings of industry, it is no stretch to call this area unsightly.
ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) Fertilizer has by far the largest and most conspicuous structure on Barge Channel Road thanks to its unusual silhouette and size. It stands out even with the grey sky.
Next door is Hawkins Terminal 2, an innocuous name for this chemical distribution facility.
The Gulf of Minneapolis, northeast of Barge Channel Road, isn’t easy to see from the street. Most of the businesses, or fences surrounding them, block the view of the Gulf. In the occasional spot without either, trees obscure the Gulf. However, it’s not hard to get there with a little effort. Several driveways and parking lots were open, which allowed me to ride up to the water. Obviously, the Gulf of Minneapolis is a man-made channel for pickups and deliveries of scrap metal, chemicals for water treatment and other commodities.
I still had questions about the Gulf of Minneapolis, so I emailed the Saint Paul Port Authority, the entity that owns and operates Southport and three other ports within the city. “We do not recognize our Southport Terminal as the ‘Gulf of Minneapolis’ as shown on Google,” replied Kathryn Sarnecki, Vice President of Redevelopment and Harbor Management, tersely via email. She continued, “We are uncertain who/how that name became associated with the Southport Shipping Terminal.”
After pondering this, my guess is that the Gulf of Minneapolis was placed on Google Maps by a practical joker who perhaps lives in Minneapolis, or a person having some fun with Google Maps. The explanations fit with the absence of the name on official city maps.
So the trip to the Gulf of Minneapolis allowed me to experience another part of Saint Paul to which I’d never traveled. I saw the Police Impound Lot on my terms, and learned about the heavy industrial businesses unique to the Southport River Terminal. I’ll probably never know for sure how the Gulf of Minneapolis was attached to the port, but it was a great way to get me to that part of Saint Paul.
Here’s the map of this ride.