Although it won’t be completed for another two years, the Central Corridor light-rail transit (LRT) project appears to be helping spur redevelopment and revitalization efforts along the corridor.
The Metropolitan Council says nearly 40 commercial, retail and housing developments have been completed, are planned or are underway along the corridor. They will add more than 5,100 housing units that will take advantage of the region’s $957 million LRT investment.
In a news release issued late last month, the council was careful not to attribute all of these projects solely to the construction of the 11-mile, 18-station rail line, which is scheduled for completion in 2014.
Many of the projects, particularly in the two downtowns and the University of Minnesota area, were underway before LRT or would have gone forward even in the absence of the rail line. For example, the news release includes the 12-year-long project that led to the creation of the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis.
The council’s release also cites several projects in downtown St. Paul that have had long and troubled histories, but now appear to be moving forward.
They include Lofts at Farmers Market, a 58-unit rental housing project with 2,000 square feet of commercial space now expected to be completed in February, and the Penfield development, which will have 256 luxury apartments and a 30,000-square-foot Lunds grocery store. The City of St. Paul took over both projects after private developers fell by the wayside, and it is providing much of the financing.
“We’re pleased that the new projects along the Central Corridor rail line are providing residential and commercial opportunities up and down the line so that individuals can live and work on Central Corridor,” said council Chair Susan Haigh. “This kind of improvement in density makes our community more efficient, livable and inclusive.”
Former state Rep. Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and a critic of rail transit, said he is not surprised that the LRT line has helped generate new development in the corridor.
“I would hope that if you spend close to a billion dollars on a transit project, it would lead to some economic development along the route,” Krinkie said. “If we ever complete Hwy. 610, I think you are going to see some economic development there, too.”
At the same time, Krinkie said, he would like to see a list of development projects along the Central Corridor that did not receive public subsidies. “My guess is that there are very few of any magnitude.”
The Met Council has done its best to prime the redevelopment pump. It has awarded nearly $8 million in grants to help with site design and acquisition, environmental cleanup, demolition or public infrastructure for 12 projects along the corridor.
Council grants are expected soon for two other projects, including the Chittenden & Eastman building on University Avenue near the LRT line’s Raymond Avenue station. The 94-year-old former mattress warehouse and store will be transformed into a 104-unit apartment building.
“We would not be there trying to do something with that property had it not been for the light rail line,” said Jim Stolpestad, chairman of Exeter Realty, which is undertaking the redevelopment effort.
Last month, the Met Council approved plans to invest an additional $26 million in economic development and job creation along metro transit corridors through the council’s Livable Communities grant program.
The new Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Fund will offer grants to cities to support development along rail and bus routes. The goal will be to encourage high density, mixed use, pedestrian-friendly development adjacent to transit stations.
The funds will come from Livable Communities grants the council previously awarded to communities, but that were returned when qualified development projects did not move forward as planned during the recession.
State of the Region event is Jan. 18
Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh will deliver her first State of the Region address at 10 a.m. on Jan. 18 in the Carew Atrium at Target Field.
Haigh, a former Ramsey County commissioner and current president of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, was appointed council chair last January by Gov. Mark Dayton. She succeeded Peter Bell, the longest-serving chair in council history.
In a year-end message, Haigh briefly described the accomplishments of the Dayton-appointed council. “During 2011, the new council clarified its vision for the region, dedicated resources to expanding opportunities for all metro residents, and continued the council’s long tradition of outstanding wastewater, transit and housing services,” she said.
The State of the Region event, which will last 60 to 90 minutes, is free and open to the public. Citizens can register for the eventon the council’s website.