Nieeta Presley says she is “not going to stand still and let the Central Corridor train run me over.” Along with hundreds of neighbors along the Central Corridor route in St. Paul and Minneapolis, she is organizing to protect and promote the interests of the people who live and do business along that route. The executive director of the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, Presley was one of the organizers who showed up at an April 28 meeting at the Central Corridor Resource Center in St. Paul.
At the meeting, leaders of more than a dozen community groups that organized a two-day community summit in March, issued a Draft Community Statement on the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Project April 28. Organizers are asking for more community feedback (see sidebar.)
Michelle Dibblee, an organizer with Transit for Livable Communities, said she saw two hot-button issues at the summit: the desire of members of the community to have a place at the table as active participants when decisions are being made, and the feeling that what residents and community members have to offer is not always part of Central Corridor discussions. She characterized the summit as “an optimistic event,” and ery solutions-focused.
Community planning group
When people talk about the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, the Metropolitan Council is often a target for criticism. Dibblee said that’s not helpful now. “The real thrust,” she insisted, “is the desire for development of housing and business mitigation that respects the community and cultures as they are, and don’t displace businesses, families, and community members.” To achieve those aims, said Dibblee, organizers need to focus on elected officials, including the city council, mayor and legislators.
Veronica Burt of the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation is not willing to let the Met Council off the hot seat yet. One thing the community needs, she said, is additional stops that are more accessible to community residents, but a deeper, more critical issue is jobs for local residents. While the Met Council has insisted that there is no money for additional stops, Burt said she doesn’t believe it, pointing to agreements reached with MPR and the University of Minnesota. “When they say there’s no money,” she said, “it’s all about will.”
“In fairness to the Met Council,” Burt said, “they have made adjustments, but it’s about how deep those adjustments are.” She said the project has to change to become “win-win for everybody, as opposed to making it ‘others win and we lose” and we’re the sacrificial lambs.”
Several participants in the April 28 meeting expressed concern that the Central Corridor’s impact on the community will parallel the destruction of the Rondo community by the construction of I-94.
Stan Gartner addressed business issues, both during and after construction. “If I lose 25% of my business [during construction],” he said, “I’m going to shut the door.” He also expressed concern about property values and property taxes: “How are some of the people on University Avenue going to afford those property values to continue to rise? They are small business people, and their property taxes are going to go up.”
John Slade of MICAH agreed with Gartner, and spoke about the negative impacts of gentrification on both renters and property owners. “The largest impact of light rail is increased property values,” said Slade. “They rocket up right around the station like a volcano. Do all the people who live there get rolled off the side and a new group of people come in to benefit?”
The coalition will gather input on the Draft Community Statement on the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Project throughout May.