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Light rail opening and celebration planned for mid-2014

Posted on 11 December 2013 by robwas66

Dec2013_Feature_LightRail

With an opening in mid-2014 coming down the tracks, planning is underway for community celebrations to mark the start of Green Line (Central Corridor) light rail service.


By JANE MCCLURE

With an opening in mid-2014 coming down the tracks, planning is underway for community celebrations to mark the start of Green Line (Central Corridor) light rail service. The Metropolitan Council and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative are urging area businesses, community groups and citizens to get involved.

Although testing of the line is underway, the opening weekend celebration date won’t be determined until early 2014. Metropolitan Council Chairperson Susan Haigh and Funders Collaborative Chair Polly Talen recently sent out letters asking for community involvement.

“The Metropolitan Council and Funders Collaborative are working with the community and businesses to plan a number of celebrations the weekend of the grand opening,” the letter stated. “These celebrations will be held at select locations along the line that meet operational, safety, and logistical requirements.”

Celebration sites eyed thus far will be near light rail stations LRT stations at Union Depot, Central Station, Western Ave.,

Victoria St., Hamline Ave., Raymond Ave., Stadium Village, West Bank, and Target Field. The focus will not only be on fun and safety for light rail users, there is also focus on promotions and special events to welcome the thousands of visitors who will come to ride light rail for the first time. They also hope that there will be activities after opening day to encourage long-term growth and development of the line.

Anyone interested in the events can email greenlinecelebration@gmail.com or call 612-353-4889.

Work on the rail line is almost complete. Along the line the focus has shifted from surviving construction to eyeing what the future will bring. The final light rail contractor advisory

committee meeting in October only drew two area residents, down from the crowds that flocked to meetings during heavy construction.

“It’s very different than it was,” said Shoua Lee, community outreach coordinator.

The city of St. Paul, which spent the past several years urging businesses to prepare for light rail, is refocusing its efforts. Nancy Homans, senior policy director for Mayor Chris Coleman, said the focus is shifting to ways to promote business districts and spur redevelopment.

Business owners and community leaders said they’re looking toward the future. “I think a lot of work toward establishing unique area business and cultural districts is still taking shape and happening at the ground level,” said Terri Thao, board chair of the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA). Businesses that weathered construction are reaping the benefits of rebuilt street and streetscape improvements now, she added, and hoping for more benefit when light rail is up and running next year.

“I think we’re just glad it’s largely done,” said Ryan Wilson, owner of the UPS store at Midway Marketplace. His store is in an area that saw two years of heavy Dec2013LightRail2construction. Other business owners note they continue to deal with loss of on-street parking and access challenges due to changes in traffic patterns.

Homans said one city goal is to promote redevelopment of land along the light rail line. “We have a huge resource with underutilized industrial land and need to find ways to support redevelopment,” she said. A pending West Midway industrial study, which is under review by the St. Paul Planning Commission, could help with that effort.

Business assistance programs are winding down. Businesses got a variety of forms of help from the city, including façade improvements, new websites and forgivable loans. Instrumental in proving assistance was U7, a consortium of community development corporations along the rail line.

Homans said more than 400 businesses were helped over the past few years. The $4 million Ready for Rail forgivable business loan program provided 266 loans totaling $3,673,197 to 206 businesses. (Businesses could apply for up to $20,000 and some businesses applied more than once for smaller loans.) Three businesses the city assisted have closed. The city won’t pursue collection of their loans.

Eighteen percent of the businesses are very small, with less than $5,000 per month in sales. “We did, I think, reach the smallest and the most vulnerable of the businesses,” Homans said. When looking at the businesses with the most significant loss, Homans said that had less to do with geography and more to do with the strength of the business itself.

Because there is some loan money left, it has been offered to businesses that slogged through two years of heavy construction, including businesses in the areas around Snelling, Pascal and Hamline avenues. Businesses can apply for up to $10,000 in additional assistance.

Other businesses only wanted marketing assistance, said Homans. The firm Mod & Co. helped with marketing, including coupon books and a billboard campaign. The avenue was split up into commercial districts and given new logos, including Midway, Historic Frogtown, Historic Rondo, Little Mekong and Rice Street. “Part of that is creating a brand and a stronger identity for an area,” Homans said.

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