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Grants help fund Twin Cities’ transit-oriented development

The Metropolitan Council figures that it doesn’t hurt to prime the pump, especially during these challenging economic times.

Hamline LRT Station sketch

One of the arguments for investing in improved transit in major corridors is that it attracts new development. But the Metropolitan Council figures that it doesn’t hurt to prime the pump, especially during these challenging economic times.

The council is preparing to approve 19 grants totaling $16.1 million  to help fund higher-density, transit-supportive development along light rail, bus rapid transit and commuter rail lines, as well as high-frequency bus routes.

The grants are part of a new program initiated by the Dayton-appointed Met Council. The funds come from Livable Communities grants  the council previously awarded to communities, but which were returned to the agency when qualified development projects did not  move forward as planned during the recession and housing meltdown.

“Encouraging economic development and job growth along transit corridors is the council’s No. 1 priority,” says council Chair Susan Haigh. “It promotes efficient use of resources and infrastructure. It improves connections between where people are and where they want to go. It enhances livability and quality of life. And, it encourages development patterns that integrate housing choices and household incomes.”

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Five of the grants will go to St. Paul, five to Minneapolis and the remainder to suburbs. Council staff members say the money will help leverage $276 million in private and public investment, and create 5,553 housing units and 2,245 jobs.

Central Corridor grants

Four of the grants will help fund new development along the $957 million Central Corridor LRT line now under construction on University and Washington avenues between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. They will provide:

  • $2.45 million for the development of two four-story, mixed-use buildings connected by underground parking and a central public plaza adjacent to the Central Corridor LRT station at University and Hamline avenues in St. Paul. The buildings at the former site of Midway Chevrolet will provide 13,700 feet of commercial space and 108 affordable housing units.
  • $979,000 for a mixed use development adjacent to the Central Corridor line at University Avenue and Victoria Street in St. Paul. The first phase of the Central Exchange project will include 8,500 square feet of commercial space and 30 housing units.
  • $2.7 million to help acquire and clear blighted buildings at 2901 Fourth St. SE in Minneapolis near the Central Corridor’s Prospect Park station. The site will be used for the construction of 250 units of energy-efficient housing. The project is part of a larger plan to create a walkable, arts-centered cultural district in the area.
  • $2 million to acquire and prepare a site near the LRT station at University and Fairview avenues for the construction of 170 units of senior housing by the Episcopal Homes. The project at the site of the former Porky’s Drive-in will feature underground parking and amenities including a day spa, therapy pool, exercise room, fireplace lounges, and indoor and outdoor gardens.

These investments could help spur additional redevelopment along the Central Corridor as the economy improves. A development strategy prepared several years ago by the City of St. Paul identifies numerous opportunities for revitalization along University Avenue and in the downtown area.

The grants also include $750,000 for improved street, sidewalk, parking ramp and trail connections to the new Northstar commuter rail station in Ramsey, as well as $22,500 for planning around Northstar’s Anoka station. The $6.6 million Ramsey station is expected to be completed by November.

Other grants in the pipeline include $1.5 million for a new mixed use development at Penn and Broadway in Minneapolis with 16,000 feet of retail space and up to 75 affordable housing units, and $1.5 million to help develop a retail town center at the former Lyndale Garden Center in Richfield.

The 19 grants were recommended last week by the council’s Community Development Committee and are expected to be approved by the full Met Council on Wednesday.