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.

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.

Source of Funds

$3 million – to be requested from State of Minnesota in next Bonding Bill Bonding Funds will be matched by $3.7 million from foundations, corporations and individuals and additional financing by the developer, The Lower Phalen Creek Project. 

$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 Melanie Kleiss, Executive Director at or 612-581-8636 for more information or to talk more about the project and how you might become involved.

Wakan Tipi Center Fact Sheet