“As a business owner and a property owner, I’m against it.” Kathy Stransky expressed her hostility over the proposed Central Corridor LRT slated to stop outside her front door. Stransky and her husband Tom together own Midway Used and Rare Books in Saint Paul. The store has sat on the corner of Snelling and University for the past 43 years—and the Stranskys have owned it for 27 of those years.
Stransky said she and her husband have expressed their objections to light-rail coming through the neighborhood for the past 15 years. “It’s not that I’m opposed to it. If people want to get somewhere in a hurry it would make more sense to put it on the freeway. For the life of me, I don’t know why they picked University. It’s not taking the place of the bus.”
The logistics of the Central Corridor LRT is one of the main problems Stransky sees with the project. Stransky said that the city will remove all of the parking meters, which would have a major impact on their parking. In addition, the massive construction along University Avenue has her concerned. “Who’s going to pay property taxes when the streets are torn up?”
The proposed route for the Central Corridor LRT would begin in downtown Saint Paul at Union Station, travel along University Avenue until it meets up with Washington Avenue at the University of Minnesota campus, and from there it will continue to downtown Minneapolis connecting to the existing Hiawatha LRT line.
With a price tag nearing $1 billion, the project is currently substantially over budget. The Metropolitan Council is evaluating multiple plans; however, only one plan meets the cost effectiveness index (CEI), which is required to receive matching federal funds. At a total cost of $909.1 million, this plan would have the trains run at street level at the U of M rather than through a tunnel, thus eliminating one of the most costly parts of the plan. In addition, the plan maintains the original University Avenue train stops proposed (Dale, Lexington and Snelling), while allow construction of the underground infrastructure needed for three additional stops (Western, Victoria and Hamline), which could be built at a future time.
With a self-imposed deadline of February 27 looming, the Met Council recently concluded a series of listening sessions designed to elicit public response regarding the project. At these sessions, Peter Bell and other members of the Council sat quietly as, one by one, residents expressed their concerns. Many tried to convince the Council why the needs of the community should outweigh costs.
Stransky chose not to attend the listening sessions mainly because she felt their words would have fallen on deaf ears. Over the years, Stransky has attended countless meeting trying to get Met Council and others connected to the project to listen. She has found the entire ordeal frustrating. She likens this to an incident occurring a few years ago involving the city’s determination to build a new bus shelter on her corner. She and her husband objected, pointing out that the sidewalk was too narrow and that there was a six-person shelter one block away. Against their objections, the city persisted and built a 2 ½-person shelter which now obstructs pedestrian traffic.
She believes that once again the parties in charge will not listen to the wishes of the people. “I believe there are a handful of people pushing this through. I don’t believe it’s about public transit. I think it’s about being new.”
From where Stransky sits, she doesn’t see that many benefits for her or any other independent business in the area. “Who will it be good for except big business? I don’t know of one independent business that is for it. They’re so eager to help non-independents, but not help independents.”
Mike Hatzistamoulos, owner of The Best Steak House at Victoria and University, echoed many of Stransky’s concerns. He, too, is a long-time business owner in the Midway-Frogtown area. Born in Greece, Hatzistamoulos emigrated here as a child with his family 35 years ago. He opened the restaurant and has remained on the same corner for the past 20 years. He commented that perhaps if the light-rail stops at Victoria it might be beneficial for his business; however, he believes the construction will be problematic for his current customers. “How will they get here?”
Over the 27 years the Stranskys have owned the bookstore, they have seen the neighborhood go through many changes. “I’ve watched the neighborhood get worse,” Stransky said. “This neighborhood is getting very, very poor. There are good businesses struggling now…Ragstock moved.”
She anticipates many small business owners will experience a significant drop in business during the construction phase. That, coupled with being obligated to pay taxes, will lead to many small businesses closing their doors permanently, thus making University look even more blighted. “I don’t think it’s good for the city,” Stransky commented.
Stransky fears the light-rail may ultimately lead to the end of her own business. “If we can’t stay here, I don’t think I have it in me to start again.”