When a downtown St. Paul building owner fails to remove graffiti, pick up litter or fix a broken window in the skyway, city officials find they have precious few tools to force better property management.
“Most of them are doing phenomenal jobs, and when that’s not happening, we need to be able to do more than send a letter,” said St. Paul Council Member Rebecca Noecker, in an interview Wednesday. “We can take them to criminal court, but that takes years to assemble the evidence, get into court and get a determination. It’s not an effective tool when we’re talking about stained carpet, graffiti, broken windows, litter. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Noecker on Wednesday introduced an ordinance amendment that would give the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections the power to issue abatement orders, which are similar to what can happen when a homeowner neglects to clear their sidewalk of snow. DSI would have the authority to hire a contractor to clean up the litter or fix the window and then assess the building owner’s property taxes.
Tina Gassman, director of the Greater St. Paul Building Owners and Managers Association, said several of her members have expressed frustration that while they maintain their skyways, owners of adjoining skyways may not. Some. in fact, asked for even greater enforcement tools.
DSI Director Angie Wiese said the ordinance amendment — which requires building owners to submit a video surveillance plan to DSI by March 31 of each year — is part of a larger series of efforts to improve the skyway experience for downtown residents and visitors. Among them, the city is working with Listening House to hire litter removers downtown, including within the skyways.
The proposed amendment will receive a public hearing before the city council on Dec. 6.