Forever Saint Paul Challenge logo

In February 2013, The Saint Paul Foundation launched a community idea challenge of unprecedented scope. Designed to harness the creative energy and ideas of Minnesotans, the Forever Saint Paul Challenge asked the question: "What would you do with $1 million to make Saint Paul great?"

Nearly 1,000 ideas were submitted — and more than 16,000 Minnesotans cast votes to determine which idea would receive a $1 million grant for implementation.

Along the way, the Challenge generated nearly 42,000 interactions with people of diverse races, ethnicities, ages and interests through grassroots outreach efforts, volunteer opportunities, public events, idea open houses, idea refining sessions, at mobile voting stations and at the Minnesota State Fair.

Thousands of people were engaged in discussions about the issues that matter most to communities, resulting in a pool of creative, high-quality ideas for Saint Paul — or any community.

The winning idea

The Urban Oasis, which connects food, nature and culture to transform existing space at the Bruce Vento Sanctuary, will receive $1 million for implementation. Tracy Sides of Saint Paul, and founder of Bravely Be, an effort to promote community health, submitted the winning idea, which received more than 50 percent of the total votes. She envisions a one-of-a-kind food hub that will make Saint Paul a national destination and model for local food systems done right.

"I'm so excited about seeing this idea become a reality because everybody wins – with our Urban Oasis food hub and event center we'll create jobs, improve health, and foster a sense of community among people and this uniquely Saint Paul place," Sides said. "And the city wins because bringing the Urban Oasis to life will showcase Saint Paul not only as a creative, equitable, thriving and sustainable city, but also as a national leader in local food system development."

The Lower Phalen Creek Project (LPCP) will lead implementation of the Urban Oasis along with Tracy Sides, who submitted the winning $1 million idea in the Forever Saint Paul Challenge. LPCP joins Twin Cities LISC (TC LISC) in implementing Tracy's vision. LPCP will lead overall development of Urban Oasis, and TC LISC will focus on community engagement that brings together farmers, communities of color and immigrants on Saint Paul's East Side. Both LPCP and TC LISC have deep local roots and are excited to work together to bring the Urban Oasis to life.

The three finalists

  • The Urban Oasis, submitted by Tracy Sides, aims to make Saint Paul a national destination for local food systems done right.
  • The Saint Paul Art Train, submitted by Craig Blakely, turns unused railcars into vibrant, rentable workspaces for creative activity and businesses.
  • The Saint Paul Center for Creative Arts, submitted by Jack Ray, establishes a unique hub for youth to learn and practice various creative disciplines and put those skills to work in the community.

Challenge overview: by the numbers

  • 946 ideas entered in The Saint Paul Foundation's $1 million Forever Saint Paul Challenge
  • 16,000+ total public votes to decide the winning idea (more than 50 percent of the total votes were secured by the winning idea)
  • 40+ total volunteers (reviewers and judges) read all 946 ideas and narrowed them to three finalists
  • 5,000+ individuals attended our kick-off event in February at the Union Depot, featuring a Guinness World Record-breaking Lite-Brite mural
  • 580 volunteers dedicated 800 total hours to insert 596,897 Lite-Brite pegs into the Forever Saint Paul-themed Lite-Brite picture
  • 7 Idea Open House events brought together 350+ individuals in neighborhoods across Saint Paul (and one Idea Open House took place in Minneapolis)
  • 2 Idea Open Labs brought together 30 semifinalists and 70+ local experts to share, discuss and refine million-dollar ideas for Saint Paul
  • 41 active organizations helped spread the word to their networks

The Forever Saint Paul Lite-Brite mural

A world record kickoff event

To officially launch the Challenge, we created the world’s "Largest Picture Made of Lite-Brite." A Guinness World Record judge confirmed the record. This giant art installation, created by award-winning Saint Paul artist Ta-coumba T. Aiken, is filled with more than 520,000 Lite-Brite pegs and is on display at the historic Union Depot through the end of March.

Forever Saint Paul Challenge supporters include the Bush Foundation, F. R. Bigelow Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation, 3M, Travelers, the Katherine B. Andersen Fund, Securian, McNeely Foundation and the Multicultural Endowment.