Venue: South St. Paul Stockyards
Attendees: 1,500 people during the day; 100 people for the groundbreaking ceremony at night
Catering: Barb Lundberg, BS CafÃ©; Special Events
Event Planner: Susan Diamond, Jigsaw Unlimited
The stockyards were very foreign to me,” says Susan Diamond diplomatically. “I grew up on the other side of town.” Diamond, who generally handles groundbreaking and gala events for real estate developers, has not often planned an event where guests parked next to the Sheep Barn or examined auction items next to Hog Alley. Nor has the entertainment included the lowing of cattle and the squeal of pigs; but these were just a few of the unusual features of the farewell event for the South St. Paul Stockyards.
Diamond’s company Jigsaw Unlimited was hired by Eagan-based Interstate Partners, which acquired the 27.3-acre property in 2007, and plans to develop it into a business park. In April 2008, when Central Livestock moved its operations to Zumbrota, Interstate Partners joined with key players from the city and Central Livestock to produce an event that would honor the stockyard’s 122-year-long sojourn at Armour Avenue and Concord Street. Diamond says she ended up being the “middleman” between the developer, the River Heights Chamber, the City of South St. Paul, and Central Livestock, who all cooperated to make the occasion a real tribute to both the past and the future of the area.
The stockyard, which was founded in 1886, was the world’s largest livestock market from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, a fact made more astonishing by its near proximity to downtown St. Paul. Generations of South St. Paulites lived and worked within hailing (and smelling) distance of the facility. As South St. Paul Community Affairs Liaison Deb Griffith put it to Diamond “It’s the smell of money.”
The day-long celebration featured the final sale by Central Livestock, guided tours of the facility, and a complimentary lunch of hamburgers provided by the BS CafÃ©, which has served the stockyards since 2000. Visitors had a chance to buy specially prepared memorabilia: engraved bricks and pen gates. Appearances by the Beefmobile (a van adorned with beef-related art) and Sir Loin, the mascot of the South St. Paul High School, underscored the bovine theme of the occasion. The mood was nostalgic and celebratory, as all considered the long history of the stockyards and the people who worked in them, from the truckers who brought in the cattle, to the auctioneers who touted them, to the people who grew up nearby.
The late afternoon groundbreaking ceremony featured cocktails and hors d ‘oeuvres for 100 guests, including the development team, Beth Baumann, Mayor of South St. Paul, and the River Heights Chamber of Commerce. Special Events’ Chuckwagon division catered the groundbreaking ceremony, which was held in a tent. Interstate Partners hopes that the development of the BridgePoint Business Park will revitalize the area, which has been in decline since the 1970s, when meatpacking plants closed.
The weather was, in keeping with a Minnesota spring, sleety and cold. “Talk about a site challenge,” Diamond remarked dryly. “It was muddy and cold. I got a hotel room next to the site just so I could clean up between events.” She dealt with the venue’s enormous size by creating detailed maps for herself and the other planners. Diamond found that the guests, many of whom worked at the stockyards or with livestock, were completely unfazed by the weather or the barnyard-like surroundings. “We had exactly the same turnout that we had anticipated for a perfectly beautiful day.”