St. Paul’s newest rec center opens in Frogtown

new Frogtown Community Center opened to the public

On time and on budget, Frogtown’s newest and biggest recreation center opened this week, a $10 million project that community leaders had been fighting for for years.

With the completion of the Frogtown Community Center, five out of six of St. Paul’s most recent major recreation center projects have now been built in the city’s lower-income areas.

“Finally, after years of saying, ‘we need help over here’ — from the mouse poop story to this — it was well done,” said Caty Royce, co-director of the Frogtown Neighborhood Association.

The “mouse poop” story refers to how area leaders once brought bags of excrement to planning committee meetings — bags brought from the century-old Sheffer Recreation Center, which was torn down to make way for the new building.

Now, the two-story, 23,500-square-foot building stands four times bigger than the near-windowless cement box that used to adorn the park space at the busy corner of Como Avenue and Marion Street.

Replaced, too, are the deteriorating — but widely used — outside basketball courts. And in their place: an artificial turf football field, two baseball diamonds, a playground, a new basketball court and a volleyball/Takraw court.

The outside facilities aren’t finished — but will be by the end of the year, parks officials said.

For now, there’s a full-sized indoor basketball court that can be converted for various uses, along with a court for Kato, a sport popular in the Hmong community. The Frogtown neighborhood is one of the city’s most diverse, with a large proportion of African-American, Hmong and Karen residents.

Torria Randall, who oversaw the old Sheffer facility toward its end, also will serve as director of the new facility.

While touting the fields and courts, inside and out, Randall gets particularly effusive about the building’s architecture.

“Windows everywhere, on all four sides. This is gorgeous, the views are gorgeous. I love the colors, the brightness, it’s just beautiful,” she said.

Project manager Chris Stark noted the brick and metal building also includes translucent paneling, which will appear to glow at night to those driving on Como. And a colorful terrazzo floor designed by three St. Paul artists greets those walking in.

The building also will include a pair of indoor washrooms where residents can clean up for prayers.

Royce still has concerns about the streets around the center: particularly a crosswalk on Marion, to connect the facility to a large apartment complex to the east.

“I’m just hoping that the community will have full use of the space versus the limited use they have right now,” said Metric Giles, executive director of the nearby Community Stabilization Project, a Frogtown nonprofit.

Randall says beyond sports, programming will include extensive “rec check” activities for kids every weekday, and teens will have access to a music studio built specifically for them.

The project was originally expected to cost $7.7 million for the building and another $2.3 million for the grounds; the building cost as much as predicted, while at this point the grounds projects are expected to run $2.1 million, Stark said.

Looking back, four of the city’s five most recent big recreation center builds have been in lower-income areas.

Last built was the 16,500-square-foot Palace Community Center, in the West Seventh neighborhood, which ran $5.8 million by the time it opened in January 2016.

And two years before that was the massive, 41,000-square-foot Arlington Hills Community Center in Payne-Phalen — a $15 million investment.

Oxford Community Center, along the highway in the city’s Summit-University neighborhood, came in 2008 — another massive 43,300-square-foot facility that ran $15 million.

And the 93,000-square-foot El Rio Vista rec center, on the city’s West Side, cost $25 million back in 2006.

The city’s Hillcrest Recreation Center, in the city’s higher-income Highland Park neighborhood, was turned into the Highland Community Center in 2014 for about $8 million. But that project was mainly about updating the facility’s library, along with giving it a new entrance and lobby.

A grand-opening ceremony for the Frogtown Community Center will be held at 3:30 p.m. Thursday and will include food and activities. The public is welcome to attend.