Artist to transform ‘gravel pit’ into newest St. Paul park

The vacant lot that was once the downtown St. Paul home of the Pedro Luggage company will be filled with flowers this summer.

The city, which eventually hopes to raise millions of dollars to turn the property into a permanent park, will spend $30,000 to create a temporary “urban flower field” on the site.

Image Courtesy of St. Paul

Plans call for 96 plots of sunflowers and other annuals planted in a pinwheel pattern with a circular brick patio at its center where about 50 people could congregate. Cut up logs will provide additional seating on the northern edge of the space.

“We’re hoping to host movies and concerts and really to create a gathering space out of a gravel pit,” said Amanda Lovelee, an artist-in-residence at Public Art St. Paul, who is leading the project.

Amanda Lovelee, artist-in-residence at Public Art St. Paul, stands on the site of the former Pedro Luggage building. (Curtis Gilbert/ MPR News)

The University of St. Thomas will donate topsoil to cover the gravel. Its students will help with the planting and study how much pollution the flowers can suck out of the ground.

The site takes up a quarter of a city block, and has been an eyesore since the city demolished the former Pedro Luggage building in 2011. It sits across 10th St. from the $62 million city-sponsored Penfield development, whose anchor tenant, a Lunds grocery store, opens next week.

The Pedro family donated the land to the city in 2009 on the condition it would become a park. They had shut down the business the year before after operating on the site since the 1960s.

Turning the property into a permanent park would cost at least $3 million. The most ambitious option, which would include buying up additional land, could cost more than $12 million.

Building a permanent park would also mean tearing down the mural Lovelee plans to paint on the wall of the neighboring Police Annex building.

Lovelee says making temporary art doesn’t bother her. She just wants to make the area more beautiful for the time being and show that spaces “in transition” don’t need to sit dormant.

“If you give an artist a small chunk of money, and they like to dream big like me, then you can make some really great projects,” she said.

The flower field budget is just $40,000, including a $10,000 grant from ArtPlace America. The temporary installation is scheduled to last two years. It will open to the public by June 1.