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Mayor Chris Coleman's legacy neighborhoods

Many buildings are for sale along University Avenue, a corridor where a light rail was built with the promise of bringing new energy and life to the area.
Many buildings are for sale along University Avenue, a corridor where a light rail was built with the promise of bringing new energy and life to the area.
copyright MDMR 2014

As Mayor Chris Coleman begins his third term, the seeds he has planted around the city are finally taking shape. Neighborhoods and community organizations are abuzz over the recent loss of long time businesses, the abundance of “for sale or lease” signs along University Avenue where the Green Line light rail is slated to begin operation this year, and the future of our city streets and freeways which will likely need updates to accommodate residents who move to the many housing developments that are proposed to be built in Saint Paul.

One of many buildings for sale along University Avenue
copyright MDMR 2014

When the mayor was working on building what he calls “the most livable city” during his first two terms, he had many supporters who told us of wonders that would happen with the building of the light rail. Any naysayers at the time were greeted with the success stories listed by the Metropolitan Council that deemed the light rail as “mission accomplished.”

Now that development is underway, residents are nervous. The Vintage, a mixed use housing and business development at the corner of Snelling and Selby Avenues isn’t creating much controversy by itself. Some neighbors are concerned about lack of parking when the planned grocery store opens. However, the development reignites the larger controversy of Ayd Mill Road, a short stretch of road that for years has been the only logical connection between Interstate 35E and Interstate 94. The problem? The road doesn’t completely connect the interstates, but forces traffic into neighborhood streets in order to make the connection. Numerous meetings are happening in relation to this road and online discussions have lit up again now that an increase in neighborhood population will be a reality. With the developers wanting to make a successful project out of The Vintage, it is likely that 2014 will be the year of decision for Ayd Mill Road. Anyone can download and read here how it turned out in 2007. Many of the same players are involved and arguments haven’t changed much, but the balance of power seems to have shifted.

The January 8 edition of “The Villager” states, “Study finds job connections lacking on University -- When construction began four years ago on the Central Corridor light-rail transit line, it was touted as a transportation link that would bring needed economic development and jobs to the neighborhoods along University Avenue in St. Paul. However, a study reviewed recently by the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority shows that much more needs to be done to create jobs along the light-rail line, which is scheduled to begin operating near the middle of this year."

“The Villager” article continues with Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough talking about call centers that are being built in the suburbs.

“These call centers have all kinds of entry-level jobs and they can’t fill them,” McDonough said. “These employers would have no problem hiring along the Central Corridor.”

Entry-level call centers? Is that why the billion dollar light rail project was built? Is that why we connected colleges and universities? Are those the businesses that Mayor Coleman really believes will attract the young professionals in their 20s and 30s to whom he so often refers?

Traveling down University Avenue, one can see building after building that is “for sale or lease.” Of those buildings sold, how many will become businesses and how many will become housing? In 2012, the city was pushing for at least 4,500 units of new housing. With the new zoning regulations along the corridor calling for high density development and promoting mixed uses, there doesn’t seem to be much being done to prevent saturating the housing market. Potential businesses play a “wait and see” game. With so much housing being built and no clear plan to attract businesses and jobs, one wonders how the rebuilt neighborhoods can thrive.

Reports citing the loss of long time businesses, the surprising number of vacancies along University Avenue, and the arguments over Snelliing-Selby traffic indicate that Saint Paul’s fast-tracked revitalization is affecting even those who felt they were immune.

If Saint Paul residents are nervous now, they have only themselves to blame for buying into an ambitious mayor’s plan to re-develop Saint Paul into his own legacy. Will the neighborhoods of Mayor Chris Coleman’s legacy be “livable?” This is not yet determined.

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