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Woes turn to hope for businesses along Green Line

Karlee Weinmann//September 2, 2015//

Woes turn to hope for businesses along Green Line

Karlee Weinmann//September 2, 2015//

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For businesses operating along the Green Line, four years of construction and operation has been a mixed bag filled with frustrations, workarounds – and, ultimately, optimism the $957 million light rail project will pay off.

Overall the Green Line, one of the largest infrastructure projects in state history, has generated $2.8 billion in new investment along the 11-mile route, which stretches between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, according to a report released this week by the Business Resources Collaborative.

There are 13 more businesses directly along the Green Line, with 4,459 additional market-rate housing units, according to the group, formed in 2008 to track businesses and property owners along the Green Line corridor before, during and after light-rail construction.

But the growth hasn’t been universal. Nearly 80 percent of the 204 business owners that responded to a survey by Wilder Research, which shaped the report, said they’ve lost business since construction started in 2011. They blamed lengthy street and sidewalk closures, and scaled-back street parking.

The light rail build-out cut especially deep for smaller businesses, ones that owned their space and outfits that sold products rather than services, the report found. In addition, the effects of construction were harsher for St. Paul businesses than their counterparts in Minneapolis.

Among the lasting impacts of the project, parking losses loom large. Most of those surveyed gave up on-street parking spaces at least during construction and now, more than a year after the Green Line launched, about half of them said they still don’t have enough spaces.

Despite the drawbacks, most businesses tapped into external resources – financial, marketing and outreach help, for example – to prop them up when construction turned disruptive. Forgivable loans made available to businesses along the Green Line proved popular, with 212 of roughly 550 eligible businesses cashing in.

In addition, more than half of those surveyed supplemented outside help with loss-mitigation efforts devised in-house, including ramped-up marketing and coupon campaigns, the report showed.

After weathering setbacks as the Green Line took shape, business owners are finding bright spots in the project and growing increasingly convinced the billion-dollar effort could generate noticeable gains for them in the coming years.

Though they’re still apprehensive, most business owners along the Green Line route believe they’ll still be in business a half-decade from now. A majority believe their customer numbers, sales and profits will increase by then.

A few business owners surveyed remain concerned about parking and other issues restricting customer access, but more of them pinpointed growth opportunities that sprouted from the light-rail line and surrounding development.

The Business Resource Collaborative, which put together the report, is a consortium of local governments, business groups and nonprofit developers.

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