Wakan Tipi Center Background

Since the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary opened in 2005 our community has had a desire to achieve the following objectives: (1) To honor, accurately interpret and educate the community about the rich cultural and natural history and features of the site and Lower Phalen Creek Corridor. (2) To honor the significance of Wakan Tipi Cave as a Dakota sacred site. (3) To create a gathering place and visitor facility, which we propose to call Wakan Tipi Center, for the community and visitors from far and wide.

The community urged the City of Saint Paul to buy the land and vacant warehouse adjacent to the northeast corner of the sanctuary to assure that incompatible development did not take place and for future use for a visitor/interpretive center. In 2009 the City purchased the property and for a few years the community made significant efforts to evaluate whether it would be more feasible to redevelop the four story, 36,000 square foot vacant warehouse building or to remove it and design, build and operate a new facility at the same site.

Between 2009 and 2014 the community funded and carried out numerous feasibility studies, cost/benefit analyses, fundraising evaluations and redevelopment efforts, including evaluation of the potential for use of the part of the vacant warehouse as the site of the Urban Oasis, the 2013 winning idea in The Saint Paul Foundation’s $1 Million Forever Saint Paul Challenge and now an independent nonprofit.

After full consideration of all options, the Lower Phalen Creek Project Steering Committee and the City of Saint Paul reached the conclusion that the greatest chance for successfully achieving our objectives lies in mobilizing around a community-based process that will result in the design, construction and operation of Wakan Tipi Center as a new building with final uses and programmatic features yet to be designed. The City removed the vacant warehouse building in the summer of 2015 to make way for the new.

The Need for Wakan Tipi Center

The sanctuary area is at the center of some of our region’s most exciting changes and opportunities. More than 100 miles of recreational trails converge here, and Saint Paul has deemed the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary a priority “gathering place” in its new Great River Passage Master Plan. By 2017, every fifth grader in the St. Paul Public School system will visit the sanctuary every year as part of their social studies curriculum. A new regional ballpark brings nearly 300,000 people per year to this area. With the recently re-opened Union Depot multi-modal transit hub and the newer Green Line Light Rail Service just 3/4th of a mile away, the area is increasingly a regional and statewide destination.

The time is now to provide services needed to protect and enhance the Sanctuary’s value as a destination and asset for our region. Wakan Tipi Center will be a visitor and interpretive center as well as a multi-use public facility owned by the City of Saint Paul and operated by the non-profit Lower Phalen Creek Project. The interpretive center will honor and interpret the Dakota sacred site, Wakan Tipi Cave, as well as the many traditions and ethnic groups represented in the rich cultural history of this area. It will also be available to rent for social and educational events that are acceptable uses of this sacred park and regional trail hub. Wakan Tipi Center is located at a 27-acre nature sanctuary and significant place in the region’s history - it will attract new audiences, raise cultural awareness, and provide a vital amenity for people visiting the region.

Project Goals & Objectives

Building on 20 years of work on the sanctuary, the Lower Phalen Creek Project will be the designated developer of Wakan Tipi Center, as a living community interpretive center, under a formal development agreement with the City. We have entered an agreement with the City, completed initial community engagement, and have begun implementation.

Project Goals:

The short term and intermediate term goals of the Wakan Tipi Center project are:

(1) Create a set of community visions for Wakan Tipi Center as a place where we can all gather and share our stories, strengthen our connections and find the unity that lies hidden in our diversity. We will do this by exhaustively recruiting and engaging organizations and individuals in the community who will provide significant and sustained involvement and support in the design and development of Wakan Tipi Center.

(2) Manifest these visions through our daily operations as we design and plan for the center. We will do this by establishing a core group of Community Advisors and such committees as may be useful, to guide and actively participate in the planning for the ongoing exhibits, programs and operations of Wakan Tipi Center.

(3) Maintain resilience, kindness and renewal in the face of change. We will do this by learning from the environmental lessons that nature teaches us and the cultural lessons our community teaches us. We will do this also by continual refreshment of our thinking and our work, by maintaining a spirit of hospitality - keeping the door always open to new ideas and new faces. In particular, we will design the center and landscapes to welcome, enable and encourage our elders to come here to share their wisdom, beauty and strength with the community.

(4) Help ourselves and others by sharing our successes and failures, lessons and outcomes. We will do this by exploring and implementing methods by which we can spread our impact beyond our immediate neighborhoods to the region and beyond. 

Project Objectives:

The way we plan for the center will lay the foundation for how we operate the center. Our objectives and strategies will guide who we serve, what we do and how we operate.

Objective 1. Who We Serve: Wakan Tipi Center will serve and involve people and organizations from every ethnic group, all economic strata and all ages. As directed by the community during strategic planning engagement in 2016 and Wakan Tipi Center engagement in 2017, our primary priority will be to serve and involve the Dakota people. This is because the Center will be on ancestral Dakota lands and near a significant Dakota sacred site. Our primary geographic areas for community engagement efforts will the Dayton's Bluff (District 4), Payne-Phalen (District 5) geographic areas. Our third priority will be to serve as a national example, sharing our story with others who are working on similar projects and issues.

Objective 2. What We Do: Wakan Tipi Center will (a) Honor, accurately interpret, engage and educate the community about the rich cultural and natural history and features of the Lower Phalen Creek Corridor and the surrounding community. (b) Honor the significance of Wakan Tipi Cave (on the sanctuary property) as a Dakota sacred site. (c) Create and operate a gathering place and visitor facility for the community and visitors from far and wide.

Objective 3. How We Do It: At Wakan Tipi Center our process is part of our product. As we transform this ancestral Dakota land and recent industrial site into a community gathering place, we will also transform how we interact as members of our community. 

We will build upon the work of many community members and volunteers to expand our efforts to engage (as paid staff, consultants and volunteers) a much broader base of support and involvement among people and groups of Dakota, Hmong, African, Latino and European origin.

Source of Funds

$3 million - In 2018 Lower Phalen Creek Project successfully received $3 million dollars in bonding funds from the State of Minnesota

As of December 2018 Lower Phalen Creek Project has been granted over $1 million dollars towards a $3.7 million goal from foundations, corporations, and individuals

Lower Phalen Creek Project is thankful for the previous support of its projects and mission including:

$4.32 million in federal funds for land acquisition of the sanctuary, remediation and cleanup and trail connections to the region.

$1.74 million in state funds for sanctuary creation, additional trail extensions, ecological restoration of the site ($572,000 of this specifically for acquisition of this land and former building on the site, which is being removed.)

$2.35 million in City of Saint Paul CIB funding for required matches to federal and state grants for the project

$1.54 million in private funds from individuals, corporations and foundations for acquisition, restoration, interpretation, and project planning.

Please contact Maggie Lorenz, Executive Director at mlorenz@lowerphalencreek.org for more information or to talk more about the project and how you might become involved.