We're in good shape, but we need to do better.
That was the general theme of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's State of the City speech Thursday night, in which he touted the artistic, economic and safety reasons to brag about the city – while also asking its residents to realize there's progress still to be made.
Arts and culture
"Here in Saint Paul, we have so much to brag about," the third-term mayor said from the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts' new stage – a venue upgrade that happened after he pushed for state money nine years ago, the Pioneer Press notes.
The speech also served as a concert where local musicians performed,including Chastity Brown, Heiruspecs and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
The inclusion underscored one of Coleman's themes of the night: the city's cultural scene. While acknowledging Austin and Nashville have "a pretty good head start" for the title of "most musical city in America," St. Paul has plenty to brag about.
He also mentioned the new comprehensive bike plan, the Wild and the Xcel Energy Center, CHS Field, and the $15 million in city library renovations of recent years.
Coleman also said the city's economic growth, particularly the number of new and thriving businesses, is worth celebration.
The headliner may have been Ecolab, which announced Thursday that it's buying downtown St. Paul's Travelers Cos.' tower, the Star Tribune reports. Ecolab's thousands of employees will be more centralized in the 17-story tower, rather than spread across a few downtown locations as they are now.
Coleman also listed businesses that have expanded, including Redpath, KLJ Engineering, Afro Deli, Urban Growler, Legacy Chocolates, and Revival Wine, Beer and Spirits.
Last year, the city issued building permits representing $715 million of activity, Coleman said. That's almost double what it was five years prior.
Work to be done
Despite the list of successes, Coleman took time to point out that not everybody sees the prosperity.
The achievement gap between whites and students of color is still too wide, he said. But he did say programs such as Promise Neighborhood show things are moving in the right direction.
At all three schools in St. Paul's Promise Neighborhood (an area comprising of the Frogtown and Summit-University areas), test scores went up, and outpaced state and district averages.
"In fact, at Jackson Elementary School, students made an 8 percent gain on state achievement test scores, compared to the state’s one percent gain," he said, noting that there is no significant gap in achievement between racial groups at the school.
Overall racial inequality Coleman described as a "monumental" challenge facing the city, one he hopes to address with programs such as the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, or helping youths find summer jobs.
"We must aim not to narrow the achievement gap, but to close it," he said. "Aim not to reduce disparities in income and employment and in housing and health care, but to eliminate them."