Cleaning the Central Corridor in St. Paul, courtesy of the EPA

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The construction-burdened Central Corridor can seem like a messy ordeal to drivers, walkers, bikers, and bus riders, but a cleaner future lies ahead. University Avenue property owners in St. Paul could receive aid to get the ball rolling on future developments due to a $1 million grant awarded through the EPA’s Brownfield Program.

Mayor Chris Coleman, Senator Amy Klobuchar and city officials announced May 13 that the grant was awarded to the city, the Metropolitan Council and Ramsey County to establish the Central Corridor Brownfield Assessment Project (CCBAP).

“We want to do what we can to help catalyze that investment along the Central Corridor,” St. Paul Planning and Zoning Planner Josh Williams said. “Ultimately the goal here is to get this land cleaned up.”

Up to twenty sites will be assessed for the presence of pollutants in soils, groundwater and building materials through city-contracted companies’ environmental investigation. Pollutants may include petroleum and diesel from gas stations, solvents from dry cleaners and lead from building materials such as paint. With land well-worn by various developments throughout history, the Central Corridor needs careful examination to understand what contaminants may remain from past structures.

Funds are available to accept ten qualified applicants on a first come, first served basis.

“What makes properties eligible is redevelopment interest,” Williams said. He explained the goal of aligning applicants’ visions for developments along the Central Corridor with the city’s vision of transit-oriented development. “They need to have a development process in mind that’s moving forward.”

Investigation has begun at four sites, and the city is in talks with three more, Williams said.

One site will host a mixed use development, a partnership effort of Project for Pride in Living and Excelsior Bay Harbor, on Hamline and University Avenues.  A planned four-story building offering approximately 120 units of housing atop 13,000 square feet of commercial space would occupy the space that was once Midway Chevrolet.

“We originally thought July would be the time we’d solicit another round of applications, but we still have room left in the initial round,” Williams said.

“Technical assistance will identify what past uses were, if there’s any reason to suspect contamination,” he said. The funds for completing the next step of clean-up, if deemed necessary, remain undetermined. “That funding might come from Metro Council, state or federal government,” Williams said.

PPL’s Executive Director and President Steve Cramer and Excelsior Bay Harbor’s owner Kent Carlson expressed appreciation for the grant’s help in offsetting an inevitable expense that can hinder the development process.

“Those are steps that any developer has to take, so the costs related to that investigation of underground conditions are a really big help,” Cramer said.

“Any time you begin to get some attention and a resource like this is made available, a project starts to build momentum, so this has put this project on the map a little,” Carlson said. “The application was one of the first ones in and the city’s very supportive of this project. They’d like to see mixed use so it kind of fulfilled their vision as well.”

Brownfield Assessment Grants have led to numerous cases of economic revitalization throughout the United States. In Jackson, MI, a $200,000 assessment award resulted in an influx of jobs. In Sioux Falls, SD, a $200,000 assessment award prompted the transformation of an industrial corridor into a recreational park and transportation corridor, also bringing in jobs. (More success stories here.)

“The whole point of this is to help facilitate development, to provide resources for a cost that would be there anyway,” Janelle Tummel, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for St. Paul’s Planning and Economic Development department, said. “To create jobs, create vitality in what’s going to be an amazing new transit way.”

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.

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