University Ave. Businesses Fight to Delay LRT

The University Avenue Business Association and the Asian Economic Development Association want a compensatory fund of at least $20 million to $30 million for businesses to be established before area construction begins on the Central Corridor light-rail line.

Two organizations that represent University Avenue businesses are fighting to delay construction of the Central Corridor light-rail transit line until a compensatory fund of at least $20 million to $30 million is set up to support area businesses.

The University Avenue Business Association (UABA) and the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) submitted a letter Monday to city and state officials asking for their help in securing a fund for University Avenue businesses affected by the $957 million light-rail transit line.

Jack McCann, president of UABA, told Twin Cities Business in a Thursday morning interview that the organizations are concerned about parking and access problems that businesses will face during construction and after the project is completed. An estimated 85 percent of the parking spots on University Avenue will be eliminated, according to the Metropolitan Council.

Laura Baenen, communications manager for the Central Corridor light-rail project, said that the parking spots needed to be eliminated to accommodate for all the amenities that the city and community wanted, including secondary station access and pedestrian crossings.

In addition, Baenen said that contractors are required to maintain uninterrupted vehicle and pedestrian access to businesses at all times.

McCann said the organizations have been trying to secure a fund for area businesses for two years but have been met with resistance from the Met Council and the City of St. Paul.

“We're constantly being told that it's just not that big of a deal and that we won't lose businesses,” McCann said.

McCann said that isn't true and that about 20 businesses have already left and another 20 to 40 are planning to leave if they don't receive compensation for the business that they will lose due to the project.

UABA and AEDA-which together represent about 370 businesses-say that businesses will lose 30 percent to 60 percent of their revenue during construction. The organizations say that range is based on feedback from other cities with similar projects and from businesses in the Lowertown neighborhood of St. Paul, where construction has already begun.

Baenen said that the revenue loss that the organizations are citing is only coming from one or two businesses in Lowertown. She also noted that the Met Council has seen a 20 percent turnover in businesses on University Avenue in the past couple of years, even before construction has begun.

“Businesses routinely come and go on University Avenue,” Baenen said.

McCann said that the Met Council did establish $1.5 million loan fund earlier this year for area businesses but it's not enough because the maximum loan a business can receive is $10,000, and businesses can't get those loans until after construction starts. Additionally, the organizations want money that they don't need to pay back.

“It's too little, too late, and too hard,” McCann said.

Despite the continuing battle, McCann said the organizations aren't against the light-rail project as a whole.

“It's a good thing for the area,” McCann said. “The train will enhance the St. Paul and Minneapolis experience and the Midway area. But if it takes out 100 or 200 businesses on its way and ruins the vitality of a lot of the small businesses, then it's not worth it for us.”