April 28, 2016
On Wednesday, April 20, a crowd of nearly 100 members of the community gathered to witness the demolition of a 68-year old building at 402 University Avenue West and to celebrate a first step in making way for the Little Mekong Plaza. Adjacent to the Western Avenue Station on the Green Line LRT, the new Little Mekong Plaza promises to generate opportunities for the neighborhood to thrive.
In 2012, Hmong American Partnership (HAP) purchased the vacant building and in 2014, was awarded a $300,000 grant to build the Little Mekong Plaza in its place from St. Paul’s 8-80 Vitality Fund – which seeks to fund projects that promote a livable city for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. The plaza will reflect the diverse cultures of the Hmong, Vietnamese, and other immigrant communities that live, work, and play in the cultural district, boosting the district’s vibrancy and sense of identity. HAP will own the new plaza and coordinate its programming and maintenance in cooperation with the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) and other community partners.
With a June opening, the Little Mekong Plaza will be one of the first privately-owned public spaces (POPS) on the Green Line. The concept of a gathering space was a result of a neighborhood call for more green space. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Va-Megn Thoj, Executive Director of AEDA, spoke of the community’s early concern for the possible implications of the Green Line LRT which eventually led to local businessowners rallying behind the idea of a plaza.
The City of Saint Paul and community partners such as the Trust for Public Land, presently working together to address green space scarcity along the Green Line, acknowledge the importance of this new POPS. More public places attract more visitors, giving them reasons to stay in the area which will lead to economic growth. The new POPS will likely increase the property values for surrounding homes and businesses.
The plaza will be ready just in time for the Little Mekong Night Market on July 23 and 24.
Deputy Mayor of Saint Paul Kristin Beckman, Saint Paul Councilmember Dai Thao of Ward 1, Bao Vang, President and CEO of Hmong American Partnership and Thoj of AEDA conveyed a shared message of unity in diversity.
Deputy Mayor Beckman praised the collaborative process, “When we come together, that’s when magic happens in this city.”
The Southeast Asian community hopes that the Little Mekong Plaza will help educate others about the history of the wars in Southeast Asia that prompted their immigration to the Twin Cities; the plaza is named after a deadly river which many Southeast Asians crossed in attempt to reach refugee camps in Thailand. A stream of water will run through the plaza to represent the Mekong River.
In his closing remarks, Councilman Dai Thao emphasized a shared conviction: “Though it will be called Little Mekong, it belongs to all of us.”
**Photo Credits: First photo on the left and second photo on right by City of Saint Paul; third photo on the left and fourth photo on the right by Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA)
In the News:
VIDEO: City of Saint Paul, Little Mekong Plaza Groundbreaking
Finance and Commerce, Green Line building to topple for new plaza