Taking Care of Business on the Central Corridor – the good, the bad, the ugly

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How could the long term impacts of light rail construction be better anticipated? What level of outreach has been successful? How we can we best help local businesses survive and thrive amidst long term construction? More than 30 community leaders and organizers focused on these questions November 21 at the Organizer Roundtable: Taking Care of Business, hosted by the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability at the Rondo Community Library.

Facing what they all identified as a lack of transparency from the agencies tasked with planning, communicating and evaluating the light rail construction, three speakers focused on different lessons learned over the past year. According to Va-Megn Thoj, executive director of the Asian Economic Development Association, no one predicted the extent of the impact on businesses. While some loss of business was expected, no one had realized how deeply it would be felt and a greater focus needs to be made on mitigation strategies for businesses affected by construction. Once the construction has ended, he said, those businesses will be weaker than when construction started. It will take a while to recover from the severe asset loss while they face a new business environment on University Avenue with higher expenses and taxes.

Isabel Chanslor, project manager for University Seven, focused on the need for effective outreach. “Outreach is king,” she said. “You need to get to the community and let them know who is out there and who to talk to.” Isabel ascribes University Seven’s outreach success to dedication and consistency, one-on-one conversations and having the same faces day after day. “If you talked to one person today, you could call that same person tomorrow.”

Larry Peterson of the University Avenue Betterment Association counseled community members to get involved in the process of preparing for construction as soon as possible. It is up to the community to do the hard work and ask the hard questions, he said. Once the construction has been approved, governmental agencies move on to the logistics of construction and is up to the community to act as advocates for local businesses.

The November 21 meeting was a sequel to last year’s organizer roundtable, which focused on identifying the strategies and challenges facing small businesses in the face of construction. The 2012 roundtable was a chance to bring together community leaders in the Central Corridor to share the successes, challenges and lessons learned as more light rail construction projects are being proposed in the Twin Cities.