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Rondo Arts and Cultural Business District Launched in St Paul, Minn.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Rondo district is part of the World Cultural Heritage District along University Avenue’s light rail Central Corridor in St. Paul. Other cultural districts in the same corridor include Little Mekong and the Little Africa cultural district.

“We don’t want to forget the past or let it trap us as old baggage. We want to recognize our history and those who’ve contributed,” said Nieeta Presley, executive director of the Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation(ASANDC) at the launch of the Rondo Arts and Cultural Business District on June 13. The new district includes retail, service, food and entertainment venues, in addition to landmarks, organizations, churches and schools.

Presley highlighted the work of Lisa Tabor, who helped organize the World Cultural Heritage District along University Avenue, and Concordia University economics professor Dr. Bruce Corrie.

The name of the district comes from the legacy of Rondo, a thriving predominantly African-American neighborhood where black institutions and businesses were the pillars of the community. It was displaced in the 1960s by freeway construction. “The I-94 development hindered the small business economic engine that existed in the community,” said Presley.

According to Presley, many people are unaware of the dozens of African American businesses still thriving in the Rondo district. These run alphabetically from A to X (Arnellia’s to Xtreme Beauty), and cover an equally wide range of business types, from food and entertainment to law offices and theater. Presley described the Rondo Arts and Cultural Business District as running from Griggs on the west to Rice Street on the east, and from Selby on the south to Minnehaha on the north.

Ward One Councilmember Melvin Carter praised the work of ASANDC and fellow community members, making a meaningful connection between the past and the future. He recalled stories about Rondo from his childhood.

As an heir of Rondo, Carter said, “I had a natural distrust for a multimillion dollar transportation project.” Carter has been credited for getting three key transit stops added to the route (Western, Victoria and Hamline avenues) in his area, while representing the needs of business owners at City Hall.

“The initial question was ‘Will it stop for us?’” Carter said. “We were able to get those stops, which creates a different question: ‘Will we get on it?’”

“Our diversity should be an asset,” he continued. “Let’s make sure our diversity shifts from a potential asset to a kinetic asset; thriving and moving, bringing in jobs for our neighbors.”

Phyllis Gilliam can attest to the hardship of the LRT construction. She is the owner of Sunday’s Best boutique located in Frogtown Square on University and Dale. “It was hard to survive,” she said. “Thank God for the money they sent…that mostly went toward rent.” Gilliam applied for a special forgivable loan program administered by the City of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Business owners along University Avenue could apply for the Ready for Rail Forgivable Loan after sixty days of construction in front of their business. Businesses located one block away from the rail line, but also affected by the construction also were eligible to apply.

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