I discovered the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night, when I had the good fortune to get to see the Minnesota Wild play their final pre-season hockey game (which they won -- yeah! -- though that's relevant neither to the story nor the Wild's standings). I didn't know it at the time, but I would be returning to the vicinity of the arena repeatedly, as the adjacent RiverCentre was the conference headquarters. I also hadn't realized that the "From Immigrants to Sports Fans: Transformations in the West Seventh Street Neighborhood" tour for which I was registered was focused on the area immediately surrounding the Xcel Center -- though had the title specified hockey fans, I might have caught on a bit sooner.
I decided to take this particular tour because I wanted to see how St. Paul handled development in the surrounding area. Washington, DC, my home for nearly 10 years, built an arena in Chinatown just before my arrival that inspired a tremendous economic boom, but also caused the flight of the immigrant population who gave the neighborhood its name. With the exception of the arch over H Street and Chinese characters on the signs for chain restaurants and shops, the streets surrounding the Verizon Center could be anywhere. The local character has been erased almost completely. I needed this tour to tell me that other cities find a way to combine growth and development with maintaining the unique flavor of a neighborhood.
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Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.