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St. Paul’s Midway touted as development hotspot

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on Wednesday pinpointed the city’s Midway area as ground zero for a facelift that over the past decade has jump-started economic development, shaping the corridor into an important artery with more growth prospects ahead.

Midway, anchored by University Avenue, is halfway between the Twin Cities’ downtown areas and home to a big portion of the Green Line, the biggest infrastructure project in state history that has triggered substantial residential and commercial development along the route.

“If you think back on all we’ve gone through in the past 10 years, it’s remarkable,” he told about 100 business owners and others at a Midway Chamber of Commerce gathering at the University of St. Thomas’ Anderson Student Center.

The mayor said momentum generated by the transformation in recent years – including expanded transit options and pushes for new housing – will drive the city’s next growth spurt.

It’s like the hockey season, Coleman said, playing up the Minnesota Wild hockey team’s St. Paul roots and its National Hockey League playoff berth to a hometown audience.

“You get to the end of the season and realize the hard work has just begun,” he said, forecasting a continued flow of projects aimed at drawing more businesses and residents to St. Paul. He touted efforts to streamline permitting and other services for local businesses.

The mayor will deliver his 10th State of the City address on Thursday.

A panel discussion earlier in the day highlighted substantial transit-oriented development along the Green Line, including a pair of showpiece projects with easy access to the Fairview Avenue stop. The light rail linking the Twin Cities’ downtowns has shaken up the Midway corridor, earning praise from Midway Chamber members on Wednesday.

Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb pinpointed the Episcopal Homes senior-living complex at 499 E. Lynnhurst Ave. near the Fairview station, and the new Habitat for Humanity office, nearby at 1954 University Ave. W., as prime examples of the growth that can sprout from major transit projects.

“We believe we are really on a path to the future,” Lamb said.

Paul Williams, Coleman’s former deputy mayor who now heads the community development organization Project for Pride in Living, said easier access to businesses along the Green Line makes it a big contributor to the local economy.

In addition to bringing people through the area, he flagged an opening for broader workforce housing initiatives.

The biggest project to date for PPL, which started its work in south Minneapolis but has since fanned out, is a 180-unit affordable housing complex on University Avenue near a Green Line station. The Hamline Station complex, which includes 14,250 square feet of retail space, will sit between Hamline Avenue North and North Syndicate Street, replacing an auto dealership.

More than 300 people are on Hamline Station’s wait list, Williams said. The first building at the site is set to open later this year.

“Rental is where it’s at right now,” Williams said, noting a sharpened focus on preservation of existing residential properties in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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