About 40 University Avenue business owners and their allies gathered June 18 at Model Cities in St. Paul for a presentation on business owners’ rights to construction mitigation during the building of the Central Corridor Light Rail line. Organized by the University Avenue Business Association (UABA), the presentation by attorneys Larry Peterson, Brent Kleffman, Stuart Alger, and Diane Dube outlined the rights available to business owners if their property is partially or fully taken (through eminent domain) or if the construction phase of the project hurts their sales.
“Document, document, document” was the phrase of the hour. Presenters strongly encouraged business owners begin recording daily customer, traffic, and revenue counts in order to be able to show how construction affected their business. However, while there are statutes in place to help ensure fair compensation of business owners whose property is fully or partially taken by a government entity, Peterson noted there is much work to do on creating construction mitigation funds for business owners.
“We need to push hard to get local, state, and federal resources to get funding on that,” he said. Peterson, whose law firm is located in the Wright Building on University, also serves on UABA’s board.
Business owners in attendance expressed concern about the impact of construction, the possibility of property tax increases, and the loss of street parking. Alex Pham, owner of Pho Ca Dao restaurant, said he was worried about the displacement that an increase in property values (and taxes) could cause following completion of the Central Corridor.
“I’m pretty nervous,” Pham said. “We’ve made our life here for 17 years. For other Asian American business owners, it’s sometimes even more. We live here. We do business here. When property values go up, property taxes go up, and we go out.”
Similarly, property owner Winston Nguyen worried about being able to collect rent from his current tenants following anticipated property value and tax increases.
UABA Executive Director Linda Winsor emphasized that while there was a diversity of opinion among business owners about the light-rail project, the organization’s goal is to make sure that existing businesses on the corridor have the resources and the knowledge to stay right where they are, before, during and after construction. “Our members’ opinions of the LRT range from ‘didn’t want it, still don’t want it’ to ‘would love it.’ The really important thing is that this amenity is for you folks [business owners], that this works for everyone.”
To that end, UABA has developed an information center for businesses and is organizing around construction mitigation funding and parking solutions. Dube, of the William Mitchell College of Law’s Community Development Clinic, said the center is working to make advice and other services available to University Avenue business owners.
David Seitz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, studying political science, gender studies, and American studies. As a writer, activist, and student, he is interested in anti-racist, feminist, and queer approaches to community journalism, politics, spirituality, and social geography.
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