Assessing a Listening Session


Billed as a listening session, the Central Corridor meeting was actually a post-it-note brainstorming session geared to members of the business community and property owners around the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit (LRT) line in Saint Paul. It was not about discussing the pros and cons of the light rail line, and it was not a question and answer session. Rather, it was to collect information and data that will compiled into a report that will be given, unedited, to city and county officials, to the Met Council and to the non-profit organizations that are part of the partnership.

Karri Plowman, Director of the Central Corridor Partnership, said the theory behind doing the brainstorming session is to, “ask people on the street and in the community what they want.”

The Central Corridor Partnership is made up of business, community, and government organizations. Formed in 2004, its purpose is to make sure that the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit project is funded and constructed on time and on budget. It also acts as an advocate for the business community and allows for mitigation of concerns about parking and survival of the businesses during construction of the light rail line. The Metropolitan Council is also working with the Partnership to address the business concerns. The Council and the Partnership collaborated in holding three scheduled public listening sessions.

I attended the last scheduled listening session held mid-afternoon October 30 at the Vietnam Center on University Avenue. The 20 or so people present included several staff members of the Central Corridor Partnership. Others were employees of the various service agencies in the building. This left only a handful of people from the community at large. Plowman says a total of about 40 people attended the two other sessions, and there were several requests from those participants to do a similar session at their business or organization.

Participants varied in their assessment of the session, and in their acceptance of the LRT. Mary Jo Simbeck from Western Bank said, “We’ve been involved in the entire process. We want to keep an ear to the pavement.” She said the bank has an advantage because they have parking lots, yet the biggest concern during construction will be getting to and from the bank. She summed up her philosophy when she said, “Let’s embrace it and make the best of it.”

Marie Minh-Hien Tran works for Vietnamese Social Services of Minnesota located in the Vietnam Center. She questioned whether the partnership really reaches out to the neighborhood, and expressed skepticism about whether the session was representative of businesses in the area. She said that most of the people who work in her building drive in from the suburbs, and asked, “Who are the people that suggested light rail?”

As Plowman led the group through different topics, participants wrote their thoughts and concerns on post-it notes, which were then collected. Concerns listed included safety, parking/lack of parking, traffic congestion, snow removal, and access to businesses during construction. They said that training was needed in teaching people to ride the bus and the LRT, especially for elders and non-English speaking residents. They said that communication should be “pro-active”, and that businesses should “ get to know each other.”

Lynne Croes works with adult English Language Learners at Vietnamese Social Services. Her concern is for non-English speaking students who will ride the light rail line. She said that even if information is available in languages other than English, many people don’t read in their own language.

Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of Saint Paul, is a freelance writer for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.