The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

February 26, 2014

Obama visits St. Paul's Union Depot

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — When White House officials chose St. Paul's Union Depot for President Barack Obama's announcement of a $600 million competition for federal grants to fund infrastructure projects that create jobs, they picked a site that received nearly $125 million in federal funds for a major renovation.

Union Depot went into decline in the early 1970s after the city's dwindling passenger train service was moved to a new depot in the Midway area between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-St. Paul, said it was in serious disrepair when she toured it shortly after being elected to Congress in 2000.

"It had been overrun by pigeons, windows were broken and shuttered, and the space was cold and largely abandoned, except for a few empty mail carts," McCollum said in a statement.

Today, it's becoming a regional transit hub. It's already being used by Metro Transit buses and some intercity bus companies, and it's poised to become busier later this year when a light-rail line connecting downtown St. Paul with downtown Minneapolis starts running and Amtrak service returns.

The project, which was in the works before Obama took office, has created more than 3,000 jobs since construction began in 2010, according to McCollum's office. The renovations were completed in December 2012.

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Republicans tried to score political points by highlighting the absence of leading Minnesota Democratic officeholders at Obama's appearance, targeting Sen. Al Franken, who's running for re-election this fall.

McCollum and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minneapolis, accompanied Obama to Minnesota on board Air Force One. But Franken did not, citing another commitment.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges — both Democrats — greeted Obama as he got off Air Force One at the airport.

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