Backed by union funds, Penfield project brings jobs downtown St. Paul

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (right) and members of the City Council cut the ribbon at a grand opening celebration for The Penfield development.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (right) and members of the City Council cut the ribbon at a grand opening celebration for The Penfield development.

Union members did more than just build The Penfield, the comprehensive, mixed-use development downtown St. Paul that celebrated its grand opening Feb. 6. They financed the project as well.

The Penfield is the latest local investment by the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT), which backs union-build construction jobs across the country with capital from union pension funds.

And union members will continue working on the Penfield site. Union grocer Lund’s plans to open a store in the building May 15, with an estimated 75 employees.

The City of St. Paul, through its Housing and Redevelopment Authority, has supported The Penfield, located at 101 E. 10th St., just off Metro Transit’s Green Line, as a key part of its downtown redevelopment program.

Mayor Chris Coleman credited the project with bringing quality, market-rate housing and a full-service grocery store to the area, while also creating jobs and sparking ongoing economic growth.

“When I took office in 2006, the Penfield project was one of our No. 1 priorities,” Coleman said. “We knew it would help the rest of the city develop. The challenge was, as the economy collapsed, the resources that we needed [for] the project were scarcer and scarcer.

“It was the Housing Investment Trust that allowed us the resources we needed to get this project in the ground and get people to work building it.”

The experience of working on The Penfield was equally rewarding for members of the Building Trades unions.

“When you see projects going on all over the metro, you get a good feeling that jobs are going to be around,” said Michael Ahman, a member of IBEW Local 292.

Matt Ferguson, another Local 292 member, added that “it’s an awesome thing to be able to have lots of guys put to work who otherwise might be sitting at home.”

“We are appreciative of the mayor’s administration for helping improve the quality of life in St. Paul with this important development project,” St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper said.

As a LEED “silver-certified” development, The Penfield enhances St. Paul’s green credentials. The former site of the city’s public safety building now boasts an 18,000-square-foot green roof.

“We went into this project wanting to have a clean building that is sustainable for the future,” Coleman said. “The fact that the HIT was able to partner with us and drive those green decisions was really important for us.”

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