Development on St. Paul’s East Side? Maybe… maybe not!

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Here’s a wee snippet from Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal about how Hiawatha hasn’t brought hoped-for development to its corridor. With the East Side hosting five potential Gateway stations, we keep hearing this question at EESRN gatherings: How much development can really happen at these stations?

Mounds Boulevard: Tiny parcel of land in a largely single-family-housing area, just a bridge away from Union Depot, the terminus of the Gateway Line. That means anyone would need to transfer after a very short ride if they wanted to travel from this station to points west. Planners argue that Metro State students will use the stop, hiking the third-to-half-mile to and from school…with a mere 180 feet of zoning for community business* along the route, currently hosting high-end steakhouse The Strip Club. I hear that place next to them is open…unless there’s the vacant lot next to the Children’s Garden. At any rate, current walkability is downright dangerous, with Mounds Boulevard serving essentially as an interstate on-ramp.

Earl Street: Current station plans have it placed at I-94 level, with elevators up to the Earl Street business district, which is only zoned for general business development along 800 feet of Earl and Hudson frontage. Currently includes a community-staple chow mein place and its storage facility (which takes up a storefront); one newish gastropub with a patio; an up-and-coming eat-and-drink establishment undergoing arson repairs; a corner store, a discount liquor store; a food shelf; and the Mounds Theatre…few of whom would say they have sufficient parking for their current clientele.

Etna Street: Current station plans have it at business level, with currently a very poor walkability where two highways (I-94 and 61) diverge. Only zoned for general business development along 1900 feet of Etna and Wilson frontage. This area currently includes an Asian buffet, a daycare facility, and a gas station.

White Bear: 1300 feet of general business frontage north of I-94, plus 4100 feet south of I-94… With little greenery, fast-moving traffic, highway noise, and gigantic parking lots, the walkability is tricky, at best. Businesses here include multiple gas stations, Walgreens, Target, fast food chains, and strip malls.

Sun Ray: This is the potential gold mine. There is 6900 feet of general and community business zoned frontage north of I-94, and 1400 feet of community business frontage south of it. Businesses have seemed to come and go in this area, but there’s a lot of diversity of target market, with Byerly’s next to Aldi’s on the south side of the I, and Cub Foods next to increasingly vacant strip mall stores in the north side’s Sun Ray Shopping Center. A big potential win for transit riders: the ultra-convenient Metro Transit hub at Sun Ray.

*Zoning frontage is estimated from the City of St. Paul zoning map by a non-engineer. I included frontage only on the streets facing the station, as walkers are much more direct than cars.