By PATRICK TROSKA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Following years of planning and preparation the Metro Green Line LRT, aka the Central Corridor, is slated to begin running June 14th!
I remember sitting in a room with a bunch of other funders discussing the proposed light rail transit line called the Central Corridor. Construction had not yet started, although years of planning had culminated in a preferred route, station area plans, and federal approval and funding. There was community curiosity, but it’s safe to say there wasn’t wide spread enthusiasm. In fact opposition existed from a number of stakeholders concerned about the route, vibrations and noise caused by the trains, business interruption, and potential damage during construction. The year was 2007.
We funders knew intuitively that the Central Corridor had the potential for significant transformation of University Avenue and neighborhoods all along the route between the two downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis. We also knew that without some intervention and intentionality, this transformation would not benefit all those who live, work and recreate along the corridor. We worried about gentrification and displacement for long-time residents of the poorer neighborhoods along the corridor. We were concerned for small mainly minority-owned businesses that may not survive the disruption caused by construction. We were disturbed that the train flew past some of the poorest neighborhoods through which it traveled without stopping. We were concerned that the jobs created by construction of the LRT would not go to corridor residents or disadvantaged communities. We worried that connections to the station areas would be difficult for area residents and that biking, walking and bus service for accessing the stations would be fraught with obstacles and misalignment. We also knew that we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and that to get smarter we had to figure out a way to learn together and coalesce our efforts in partnership with the community.
We spent the better part of a year meeting and discussing issues. We learned from local government officials, community groups and stakeholders. We took lessons from the Hiawatha LRT. And in the end, we formalized our working relationships into The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative (CCFC). In 2008 we got lucky and hired Jonathan Sage-Martinson as the CCFC Director who has fearlessly and tirelessly led the collaborative since then. None of us knew then how smart he’d make us look!
Fast forward to April 23, 2014. We gathered at Union Depot with some 150 stakeholders for our annual community convening and update. It was the fifth time we’d done this, but the first time since test trains began running along the corridor providing a realistic look and feel for how it will all look when the “real” trains start running June 14. There was a buzz and excitement that filled the room in part because we all knew how close we were to the Green Line as a reality. That buzz and excitement was also present because of the hard work and dedication of hundreds if not thousands of individuals, nonprofits, businesses, funders, city, county and state employees, and community residents who fervently worked to ensure that that the corridor is more than just a train – it is also an opportunity.
So what’s happened in the 7 intervening years since those funders initially came together? I can honestly say, “a lot!” For the last 3 years, we have been tracking a number of key outcomes related to our four goals as a collaborative. Here’s just some of what we learned last week.
- There has been a net increase of 9 businesses that immediately front the corridor. This includes 128 new businesses, 90 that closed and 29 that relocated off the corridor. This is good news overall given the challenges posed by construction. Technical assistance, loans and other supports provided by the Business Resources Collaborative are the reason for this net gain, along with the tenacity of business owners who found creative ways to sustain and/or grow their businesses.
- So far the income mix in the corridor remains stable and broad displacement has not yet been seen. A total of 2,181 new or preserved long-term affordable housing units have been realized since construction began. For every 12 market rate units produced, one new subsidized unit is developed, which is 7% of the total of new units produced. One challenge driven by the proliferation of high-end rental units in both downtowns is a 24% increase in median rents for a 2BR apartment since 2011. This is an unsustainable trajectory which should call for the development of more affordable properties. The Big Picture Project provides a roadmap for increased affordability along the corridor.
- Neighborhoods are becoming more transit-oriented. There have been measurable increases in residential density from 8.9 units per acre to 9.3. The drivers of this increase are the downtowns and the University of Minnesota, but nearly every station area has at least one affordable housing development in the pipeline or under construction.
- There are new efforts among the educational and medical institutions (called anchor institutions) located along or within a short distance of the corridor to utilize the assets that exist along the corridor to address the personnel, procurement and placemaking needs of those institutions. Leadership of these 13 institutions have come together to discover how they might collectively tackle these needs in ways that benefit businesses and residents along the corridor.
- More residents are being connected to workforce training opportunities at local nonprofit training centers or St. Paul College and Minneapolis Community and Technical College. To date, over 600 residents have been connected to workforce resources.
- Development and investment has started in a big way to every neighborhood along the corridor. Nearly 90 projects worth more than $1.7 billion have been completed or are under way within a mile of the LRT line. Neighborhood plans call for nearly $7 billion in future investments. People and businesses want to be located within reach of the corridor.
There is lots more good news to share. To learn more, I invite you to take a look at our Annual Report and our tracker which tracks progress on a set of key outcomes. And there’s a lot more to be learned by digging around the CCFC website.
Many questions remain about how the vision for the Green Line can be realized to benefit everyone: Can we continue to hold off displacement while welcoming a certain level of gentrification? Can those who live within the corridor access good, living wage jobs in other parts of the region by using the Green Line? Can new and existing businesses continue to open and thrive along the corridor? Will creative placemaking create identified cultural niches that draw outside visitors on a regular basis? Will the station areas be easily accessible by walking, biking and bus service, and will they be safe and pleasant for residents and visitors? In what ways can what we’ve learned as a collaborative be useful to transit investments in other parts of the region (Southwest, Bottineau, street cars, etc.)?
In spite of these lingering questions, I can honestly say we’re as ready as we’re ever going to be for when the trains start running on June 14 . Only then can we see how people use it to move around the region for work, school, social events, and other daily living activities. When you take a long-view perspective as we have as a funders collaborative, you celebrate the milestones along the way while recognizing the work yet to be done. We are at a moment of celebration. I am ever appreciative to everyone who had a hand in getting us to this point. It was truly a community effort. I can’t wait for June 14!