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Green Line development exceeds expectations

When stakeholders in 2008 first began assessing the feasibility of development in neighborhoods along the Green Line, market reports showed investors would face many near-term challenges due to the recession and uncertainty about the project.

Despite risks in the market, several nonprofit developers, organizations and community groups stepped forward to invest along the corridor, said Mary Kay Bailey, executive director of the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, a group of foundations dedicated to improving neighborhoods along the 11-mile rail line between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Bailey recapped the 2008 market report Thursday at the new Bedlam Theater in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood for the group’s annual meeting. She highlighted some of the organizations that decided to build on the corridor despite the challenges – like Project for Pride in Living, which is currently building a $28 million 108-unit affordable housing project adjacent to the Hamline Avenue station.

“There were a number of partners … who were ready to put their money down, making the bet that this corridor would be good for the people they wanted to serve,” Bailey said.

The Metropolitan Council now tallies more than $3 billion in additional investment and development through 312 projects within a half-mile of the $957 million Green Line, which is celebrating its first anniversary this week.

The projects include expansions, renovations and new construction. But the tally doesn’t include the cost to build the line, CHS Field in Lowertown or the new Minnesota Vikings stadium rising in Minneapolis.

Many of the predictions in the 2008 market report have become reality on the corridor, Bailey said. The market has been strongest on the western half of the line and is moving east, as predicted, Bailey said. Most of the residential development has occurred in the downtowns and the University of Minnesota area, according to a report from the Big Picture Project, which follows affordable housing on the line.

Residential development was projected to lead the way on the corridor, which saw 4,549 new market-rate units in 2014.

Other uses are beginning to “pop,” Bailey said. She highlighted the new 33,000-square-foot Goodwill store, near the Lexington Parkway station, and First & First’s creative office project Vandalia Tower at 550 Vandalia St., near the Raymond Avenue light rail stop. Minneapolis-based First & First is rehabbing the former King Koil mattress factory into a hub for creative businesses including a coffee roaster, brewery and filmmaking studio.

Public amenities beyond transit – like parks and arts and cultural opportunities – would be needed to attract greater private investment, according to the 2008 analysis.

The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative has invested $10.5 million since 2008 to promote affordable housing opportunities, businesses, green space and a sense of culture and community beyond the rail. That investment has leveraged an additional $50 million in grants and loans to the corridor, according to the annual report for the collaborative. The group uses several metrics to track housing affordability, economic health and neighborhood vibrancy.

Since 2011, 2,375 affordable housing units have been added or preserved on the corridor, nearing the 10-year baseline goal of 2,540 units and within range of the expanded goal of 4,500 units by 2020, according to the report.

But for every one affordable unit added to the corridor, seven market-rate units are added, said Ellen Mai, research associate with the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

Residential density on the corridor has also risen to 9.6 units per acre, up from 8.9 units per acre in 2009. But so far, it’s primarily a case of denser areas becoming denser, Mai said, with most of the development occurring in the two downtowns and the University of Minnesota.

While median rents are rising, Mai said there are still no signs of broad residential displacement and neighborhoods along the corridor are still among the most affordable in the metro area. Even so, median rents for advertised two-bedroom units are 39 percent higher than in 2011, largely driven by new luxury units, Mai said.

In terms of businesses, 134 have opened while another 121 closed or moved off of the corridor for a net gain of 13 businesses, Mai said. An annual survey of 204 representatives from businesses along the Green Line found that the majority believe the number of customers as well as sales and profits will increase in the future.

But overall, the number of businesses on the corridor has declined 4 percent from the 6,765 recorded in 2011 compared to a 2 percent loss in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region over the same period.

The number of parks and open spaces along the line has increased, with 57 parks added since 2011. The collaborative also supports the development of publicly owned spaces, such as plazas and outdoor areas available to the public as part of new development projects.

This year will be the final year for the collaborative’s work, but its leaders intend to pass on the annual tracking of performance metrics and other activities to other organizations that have been leading initiatives on the ground.

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