How the construction of the Green Line altered the path of St. Paul’s Central Corridor and what we can learn from it
As questions arise about the $2 billion expansion of the state’s Blue Line through north Minneapolis, let’s look at how the Green Line affected St. Paul.
Since the Metropolitan Council's Green Line was constructed, a route linking the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the train’s central corridor has seen billions of dollars in investments.
From condos to a soccer stadium, the Midway neighborhood's landscape has changed with an outstanding boom in development.
As questions arise about the $2 billion expansion of the state’s Blue Line route through north Minneapolis, let’s examine how the Green Line affected St. Paul’s Midway and Frog Town neighborhoods.
Mega project/micro perspectives:
More than $4 billion dollars have been invested along the route of the Green Line since it opened in 2014, according to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA).
The project employed 5,000 workers and at its peak and saw an average weekday ridership of more than 250,000 riders.
“I was really excited. I felt like it was about time to have some additional transportation,” said Jun-Li Wang, who worked with the Hamline-Midway Coalition before the Green Line’s construction
But both the placement and the idea of a major transit path through the community reminded some of the demolition of the old Rondo neighborhood for the construction of Interstate 94.
“I just thought that that was going to be the end of life as we knew it. All our families were afraid that they were going to come into and past University Ave. and buy up the properties. Then there wouldn't be any more in the neighborhood,” said Tameka Jones, owner of Lip Esteem in the Rondo area.
Trahern Crews, who lives in the Selby area of St. Paul said "If you look at what happened to the Midway shopping center, the bowling alley is gone, the grocery store is gone, some of that is connected to the light rail,"
"It was one of the biggest concentrations of Black businesses in St. Paul and things don't always have to go through communities of color." Crews added.
Business on the central corridor:
A post-pandemic push for more Black-owned businesses has seen early successes in the Midway locale. The Neighborhood Development Center has been active in helping launch such businesses, with examples like Urban 21 and Flava Café holding grand openings in 2022.
Some of the long-established businesses in the area however are still waiting to see a benefit from the project.
"I was indifferent at the time (when the Green Line was announced). Anything that would bring customers would have been nice," said Tim Wilson, owner of Urban Lights Music, which has operated on University Avenue for over 30 years.
However, the construction period proved volatile for his shop.
Wilson continued “Our business came to a standstill, along with a couple of other businesses. We literally had no street for almost two years,”
Additional loan and grant programs from The city of St. Paul didn't follow through on all of its commitments to his business either, said Wilson.
He also spoke about the difficulty in attaining and qualifying for the grants and loans being offered by the City of St. Paul.
"We were told the city was gonna take care of various problems, with rent and things like that and none of that came to fruition," Wilson added. "You had to qualify and we never did."
Demographic change and accessibility issues:
“The rent is too damn high,” said Crews of the recent residential buildings in Midway. “For Black people, if we look at the median income, that kind of stuff can price us out of there.”
University of Minnesota Professor of Urban and Regional Planning Ed Goetz says the project may have pushed some residents out of the area.
"We know that displacement disproportionately affects communities of color, Our study showed some patterns of neighborhood change, higher income, more highly educated populations moving in those areas are indicators of displacement.”
Goetz also serves as the director of CURA at the University, which conducted its own study into the changes the Midway neighborhood experienced after the Green Line was installed.
CURA's project found demographic trends reversed after the installation of the Green Line with more white people staying in the area, as well as a significant increase in the percentage of residents with a college degree.
For others in the Midway locale, the demographic change hasn’t been felt.
“For me, it's the same people. I mean, I still know the neighbors on my block and the neighbors within a four or five-block radius. They've all been here for 15-20 years, I've seen their kids go from baby to college” added Wang.
Eviction filings also increased after the construction of the Green Line, in some cases doubling near station areas. The filings are a source of displacement, according to CURA, which has been contracted by the Met Council to develop an anti-displacement workgroup.
Blue Line Extension and anti-displacement efforts:
With a rapid impact on rising evictions and a tumultuous period of construction for local business owners, the implementation of the rail altered the central corridor of the Green Line.
The Met Council, however, is hoping to learn from what happened with the Green Line for its proposed Blue Line extension. The development and actions of the “Anti-displacement Work Group” aim to avoid some of the troubles which may have been caused by the Green Line.
Goetz, who is working with the group said the Anti-Displacement Workgroup was able to learn key lessons from the successes and failures of the Green Line’s placement through the Midway and Frogtown neighborhoods.
"Really constant contact and day-to-day responsiveness are important and having people dedicated to that, working with businesses and owners and the construction team to make sure everyone knows what's happening and when," said Goetz.
He added that small loans, which were given and forgiven, to local businesses could lessen the burden for those shops on the route.
The workgroup released its recommended anti-displacement outcomes and supporting policies in February.
The list includes recommendations like; cash support for lost business revenue, expanded public housing, and universal basic income within the radius of the corridor. The policy recommendations are to take effect through various phases in the construction period and beyond.
As for the Green Line, Crews believes more can be done to increase accessibility for those living in the areas impacted by the construction.
"I think that people of a certain income bracket, shouldn't have to pay for the light rail," he said.
The concept of free rides for low-income riders is included in the Anti-Displacement Workgroup's recommended policies.
Wilson, meanwhile, believes the changes to the area were according to the city's plans.
"It's part of life man, the haves and the have-nots, they got what they wanted, the little guys up and down Uni(versity) paid the price, good luck to those with the expansion."