It should be no surprise that the largest transit project in Minnesota has caused multiple lawsuits to be filed. What is disappointing is that two of our beloved institutions have taken this as an opportunity to fill the coffers. MPR and the University of Minnesota have both decided that lawsuits are the way to go about mitigation for claims that can easily be resolved. Why resolve them when you have the chance to get millions out of the deal.
On the other hand, the Rondo neighborhood (who remember I-94 plowing through the neighborhood) have some real concerns about the impact on their neighborhoods. The group who has the most at stake are the small businesses that line University Avenue and make that corridor what it is today. Without these businesses central corridor would be a pipe dream.
The Pioneer Press understands all the players and has this to say:
And could public transportation have a better friend in the media than MPR? Why, the very collective nature of the train is right up their ideological alley, except, well, not if they actually have to see it or hear it or feel it rumble. Their studios are too delicate, we are told, and the prospect of one of their pitchmen having to start over on an ad for biscuits or T-shirts or CDs or memberships or whatever they are begging for around the clock is enough to make them stamp their feet and demand accommodation.
At the other end of the line, the researchers at the University of Minnesota are worried the trains will rattle their test tubes or slosh something out of a mortar. God knows what they are up to.
And in the middle are the underdog small-business proprietors on University Avenue who quite likely will see their efforts to make an honest buck get trampled. These people should have been more careful whom they voted for. You have white people with gleaming smiles at both ends of the corridor and a generally mixed ethnic bag of people in the middle trying to chase what is left of the American dream. They have sued, too, and they'd better get theirs. The old Rondo neighborhood took it on the chin the first time for I-94. This time around, under the umbrella of the NAACP, neighborhood groups argue that the line violates environmental justice laws, which is another way of saying that those who want windmills don't care who gets disrupted by them, just so it isn't them.
MPR and the U have taken away what really needs to be addressed, the thrivability of small businesses before, during, and after construction of the light rail. While not all the business want the LRT, it would make the most sense to work with them now to make sure those that want to stay and thrive, can.
It's interesting that you bring this up. I work with the Ramsey County Historical Society (I'm in the historical research end) and I have been working with a variety of people from this area. Most recently we were approached by a group hoping to do a before and after documentary to capture the environment before. The hope was to capture what might be lost, something no one thought to do with the Rondo area. There are a handful of community let groups doing exactly the same thing. The Hamline History Corp and it's counter part in Frogtown. Both have recognized the potential threat and are scrambling to collect whatever 'before' info that they can. Since our collection contains all the existing building permits between 1883 and 1975, we are an ideal first stop for built environment research.
I think you are absolutely right, the small business has far more to lose than the U of MPR. But I also think that these little guys are least likely to get anything out of the lawsuit. There is a group that we have worked with in the past to produce an exhibit 'twin cities at the crossroads, the history of University and Prior' www.universityunited.com They are development based, with a STRONG focus on history. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone that knows more about the University area than Brian McMahon. I hope to do more work with them in the future, especially in the face of this major change to the area.
Also working with the groups doing the restoration and updates to the St. Paul Union Depot. VERY happy that they are historically minded in their approach! Even though they are from out of state, they are committed to understanding the historical context of the building and the rail infrastructure! It's reassuring to us history folks!
Thanks for your blog!
The University's actions have been embarassing, frankly. I know their concerns are real but throwing a legal hissy fit in a brazen attempt for federal mitigation funds has thretened to delay a project few will benefit from more than the U. At least until MPR filed suit recently they could be held up as a more reponsible public institution. But I think they saw some softness and unconditional support from the feds, and decided to attempt to shamelessly pad their own coffers. Time to get all these institutions sailing in the same direction.
I completely supported the Rhondo/Frogtown residents bid for the extra three stations, and thanks to the shift in the federal funding formula, they got them. I understand concerns about losing parking and construction headaches for businesses, but how on earth does demolishing huge swaths of neighborhoods for the freeway system invite any comparison whatsoever to running a train down University Ave? I am not familiar with any buildings slated to be torn down, nor will the train divide neighborhoods as the freeway did. In fact, the central corridor will provide much needed neighborhood connectivity for the transit-dependent folks along its path. Many other poor neighborhoods would love to have the "problems' that come from LRT construction.
The "Pioneer Press article" that you quote is actually not from a reporter - it's an opinion piece from Joe Soucheray, a local radio talk show host that is quite conservative. I'm not at all surprised by what he said given that context. Since it appears you are not from the Twin Cities, I thought I would shine some light on that for you.
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