The Green line running from Minneapolis to St. Paul presents one of the biggest economic opportunities for the region since interstate highways appeared in the 1960s. While freeways funneled billions of investment into mushrooming suburbs, light rail offers a chance to rebalance the scale by bringing major development to central city neighborhoods.
But that won’t happen automatically at every light rail station, which is why the Local Initiative Support Corporation-Twin Cities (LISC) joined with private developers, non-profit developers, neighborhood groups and the city of St. Paul to accelerate development at stations along the Eastern stretch of University Avenue. “We’re working to activate the market in this area to promote transit-oriented development (TOD) and social equity,” says LISC Program Director Gretchen Nicholls about the Accelerator Project, “which will benefit a broad cohort of stakeholders: residents, businesses and organizations in the area.”
This diverse, mixed-income area on a rail line calls for a different kind of development than usually seen in the Twin Cities. That’s why LISC is strategically deploying $13 million in grants to support projects serving transit riders and walkers, providing workforce and affordable housing, creating public space and pocket parks, preserving the cultural and historical identity of the neighborhoods. Typically it takes at least a decade to carry out this kind of ambitious vision, Nicholls notes, so the point of this program is to speed up the process. Among the projects:
Rice Street: The focus is an old car lot now owned by the City of St. Paul that is slated to become a mixed-use development with commercial space and workforce housing. “It will be a community project designed to instill confidence in the market, and new private investment in the area,” says Cecile Bedor, Saint Paul’s director of Planning and Economic Development. “In five years, we’ll see a beautiful, interesting place that will inspire people to get off the train to explore all the offerings along the Avenue.”
Western Avenue: The Old Home dairy factory will be transformed beginning this summer into a mixed-use development with 57 units of workforce housing in both historic and new buildings. “We want to this area to remain affordable for new people as well as people living in the neighborhood who want accessibility to the rail line,” says Nieeta Presley, director of the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, which is collaborating on the project with the private developer Sand Companies. “The Accelerator Project supports us in connecting this vision to development without slowing everything down.”
Victoria Street: A community center, commercial space and 93 units of workforce housing is featured in a project by the Model Cities CDC that redevelops the historic BROWNstone building, builds new in-fill housing and rehabilitates existing properties near the station.
Hamline Avenue: A public plaza and 108 units of workforce and affordable family housing along with storefront shops will be added to this stretch of University, which is primarily large retail stores today. Project for Pride in Living is the developer, and has already received 3.25 million in grants from the Metropolitan Council.
“These projects will lift the bar on what equitable transit-oriented development can do,” Nicholls summarizes. “They highlight that you can connect development investment with broader goals for the region.”
Nieeta Presley agrees that in a few years this stretch of the Central Corridor, “is going to set a model of how to do things– a combination of new housing that also respects the value of historic places through preservation. It will have green architecture and lots of artists and artisans as well as longtime residents. It’s going to be a ‘gotta-go-to’ place.”
Jay Walljasper writes, speaks and consults frequently about how to improve our communities. His website: www.JayWalljasper.com
Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.