Nearing the conclusion of a lengthy light-rail construction project that posed significant challenges for some University Avenue businesses, St. Paul officials say the transit project is already bolstering economic development.
The new light-rail line will be known as the Green Line and will connect the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul via the Central Corridor along University Avenue. The project is 96 percent complete, and service is slated to begin next year.
Many area businesses complained of the hindrances that construction created and of the resulting loss of parking. And a recent report from the Metropolitan Council and the Federal Transit Administration found that area businesses have lost significant revenue during the $957 million construction project.
But St. Paul officials said this week that economic activity along the line is reaching pre-recession levels. Excluding permits related to the light-rail construction, there has been more than $143 million in building permits issued this year. That marks a five-year high, the city said.
In 2009, the city issued $96 million in building permits along the line. It issued $102 million worth in 2010. Excluding those related to the light-rail construction, permits totaled $51 million in 2011 and $142 million in 2012. Meanwhile, the city expects to see $150 million or more in permit activity by the end of this year.
“As light-rail construction comes to an end and businesses are starting to be able to see the boon of light-rail activity in the not-too-distant-future, Saint Paul continues to see even more investment in this crucial transit corridor,” Mayor Chris Coleman said in a statement. “Saint Paul’s vitality is becoming brighter and brighter as the Green Line comes even closer to opening, and I am truly looking forward to what 2014 will bring.”
On Sunday, a segment of University Avenue was shut down for an event called Saint Paul Open Streets, which encouraged people to bike or walk down the Central Corridor and visit area businesses. (Read more about the event here.)
“After spending years watching crews build the light rail line, the business community is clearly ready to see construction re-shape the buildings and businesses along the Central Corridor,” Steve Johnson, chair of the Midway Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. He said the increase building permits “represents something that is very real and extremely positive.”
While St. Paul is touting the permit activity as a sign that the light-rail line is boosting economic development, business advocates from the U-7 University Avenue Business Preparation Collaborative have said it's too soon to assess the overall impact that the light-rail line will have on small businesses, especially those that have lost street parking, the Pioneer Press reported.
The Met Council has reported that 122 businesses opened along the full route, 90 closed, 24 moved within the corridor, and 28 moved elsewhere during construction. There are a total of 1,400 businesses along the Central Corridor, and the council estimates that $1.7 billion in new private development is complete or underway along the entire route, which runs from Target Field in Minneapolis to the Union Station in St. Paul.