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University UNITED  A Coalition of Midway Citizens and Businesses

Breaking News, Rumors, Musings?

Breaking News, Rumors, and Musings

This is the section of our website where we will be posting breaking news. As we have time to clarify and edit the information, we will be placing it in a more appropriate section of our website.

Brian and Russ

For Immediate Release
University Avenue History Group
Contact: Brian McMahon (651) 647-6711

Noted Historian Don Empson to Present St. Paul History Workshop

Saturday, March 22, at 10 a.m. and repeated at 7 p.m, Thursday March 27
U-PLAN Community Planning Studio, 1956 University Avenue, St. Paul

Donald Empson, the author of The Street Where You Live: A Guide to the Place Names of St. Paul, published by the University Of Minnesota Press, will be conducting a workshop on how to research local history, using the University Avenue corridor as a case study. Empson will present a variety of research sources readily available to the public on the Internet or at local libraries, including photographs, newspaper indexes, building permits, and oral histories.

This class is being offered by the newly established University Avenue History Group, a program of University UNITED. It is intended to encourage residents to join in a grassroots effort to write the history of this fascinating corridor. Stories and pictures will be posted on the website, and will hopefully be incorporated into a published book. It is expected that the website will become a repository of information about buildings no longer standing, such as Montgomery Wards and the Prom Center, and other local landmarks, such as Porkys, and the disappearing automobile dealerships. With over one billion dollars being invested in a new light rail line, and related redevelopment activity along the Avenue, the History Group felt it was a particularly opportune time to document the history of this storied corridor.

Noted Historian Don Empson to Present St. Paul History Workshop

Don Empson is the author of several books and articles on the history of St. Paul and Stillwater neighborhoods and was a reference and map librarian at the Minnesota Historical Society. He is a Principal Investigator under the Secretary of the Interior Standards and Guidelines.

The one-and-one-half-hour class will be taught at the U-PLAN Community Planning Studio, 1956 University Avenue, St. Paul, on Saturday, March 22, at 10 a.m. and repeated at 7 p.m, March 27. Please register by emailing Brian McMahon at or calling 651.647.6711.

Posted on Sat, Nov. 18, 2006

Home Depot now contender for site
Competitor had been pursuing key I-94 spot
Pioneer Press

In an apparent last-minute switch, Home Depot - not competitor Lowe's - may have the inside track in developing a prime piece of St. Paul real estate near Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94.

City Hall sources, who would not speak publicly because Home Depot hasn't made any announcement, say the company has or is nearing an agreement with RK Midway, which is trying to develop the so-called "bus barn" site in the Midway area.

Home Depot officials recently visited City Hall to make a pitch to build there. City Council Member Debbie Montgomery, who represents the area, acknowledged rumors of a switch but declined to comment further.

Paula Maccabee, a consultant for RK Midway, said she would wait for an announcement before commenting.

"When Home Depot is able to make a statement, that's when I'll be able to respond to it," Maccabee said. "It really is the retailer that makes that determination, not the person that happens to own the land."

The project would be located on an almost 5-acre parcel adjacent to a companion 10-acre piece of property that once housed a Metro Transit bus storage facility.

The 15-acre site is considered among the premier commercial development opportunities in the Twin Cities. A Best Buy still is being discussed for the property once Metro Transit sells the land.

Metro Transit is looking for an alternative site for a bus facility and might be considering RK Midway-owned property near Vandalia Street and Interstate 94.

Depending on Home Depot's plans, the news could meet community resistance. The site has been ground zero for a debate about the future of University Avenue.

With plans for a light-rail line in the works, many have been advocating for higher-density, transit-oriented development along University Avenue. They, along with Mayor Chris Coleman, have argued that typical "big box" retailers don't fit with their vision of how University should be developed.

Brian McMahon, executive director of University United, said he would oppose any proposal that looks suburban. Even if Home Depot added development features such as structured parking, McMahon said, he still might not be comfortable with it.

"You can't just plop a building down of that magnitude and expect it to not have serious consequences on how the rest of this is going to be developed," McMahon said.

Several years ago, plans for a Home Depot at Lexington Parkway and University Avenue fell through.

Jason Hoppin can be reached at or 651-292-1892.

Pioneer Press, July 23, 2006

Limits sought for University Avenue
Group seeks ban on drive-throughs, auto stores
Pioneer Press

Emboldened by a new limit on development on the eastern end of Grand Avenue, neighborhood activists are now hoping to redraw land-use rules for St. Paul's less trendy commercial corridor.

There's no danger of a J. Jill or Helly Hansen setting up shop along the urban jumble known as University Avenue.

But planning group University United is asking district councils and city leaders to back a plan that would at least temporarily ban new drive-through facilities and auto-related businesses - hallmarks of the thoroughfare that still typify it today.

Neither use, say community activists, belongs on the future route of the Central Corridor light-rail line between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis.

"Drive-throughs are almost symbolic affronts to the nature of this changing corridor," said Brian McMahon, who heads University United. "In the past, there's been a willingness to say anything is OK on University Avenue, and that has got to change."

Although McMahon said his board was encouraged by passage of a new Summit Hill plan that caps big developments on Grand Avenue, he admitted a "cultural chasm" in the urgency people feel toward protecting the two streets.

But others say that limits on development - and on the potential of new jobs - isn't what the avenue needs.

"The people who live here, they need to be the ones working on a plan," said 1st Ward City Council Member Debbie Montgomery.

New design standards are important, Montgomery added, but they can stand in the way of business.

She alluded to last year's negotiations to bring Best Buy and Lowe's to a long-vacant Metro Transit bus-garage site at Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94. The companies were willing to construct the stores with sustainable building principles and give the locations a "two-story look," Montgomery said, but community activists weren't satisfied because the companies wouldn't build a costly multi-level parking ramp or offer union-paying jobs.

The project, which would have required a complicated land swap involving the Metropolitan Council, lost momentum in part because of neighborhood concerns.

"Nothing seems to be enough," Montgomery said.

University United's proposal also would prohibit suburban-style developments epitomized by hulking one-story buildings surrounded by asphalt parking lots. After securing buy-in from district councils along University Avenue, McMahon wants the City Council to pass the interim measures immediately. Existing businesses that don't meet the proposed standards would be grandfathered in.

The rules would stay in effect until the city implements permanent land-use rules as recommended by the University Avenue Central Corridor task force. That citizens panel is expected to unveil its blueprint of the corridor by year's end.

Those regulations are no small matter.

The Federal Transit Administration considers a city's land-use regulations among several other criteria when evaluating which mass-transit projects across the country deserve funding, said Steve Morris, Central Corridor project manager with the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority.

"I don't know that you could say one specific piece of zoning or legislation is in itself crucial, but clearly they evaluate the whole spectrum of zoning and land use," Morris said.

The proposal also signals a shift in strategy for the University United umbrella coalition, which over the past several years helped brand "transit-oriented development" as a buzzword in city planning circles. After losing piecemeal battles to such projects as a CVS pharmacy, a TCF Bank branch and a new SuperTarget, members agreed they needed to change the system.

Recent news that Brothers Auto Sales and Car Wash would be setting up an additional car lot on a parcel of the now-empty Whitaker Buick site disappointed Randy Schubring, a University United board member and vice president of the Hamline Midway Coalition who lives three blocks away.

"Having some control over what the avenue will look like is crucial because now is the time when developers are coming in and purchasing property," Schubring said, referring to interest spurred by light-rail transit. "We have more leverage now, but we don't have the guidelines."

Ellen Watters, a vice president with the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, said she feared that such a ban would depress the value of several prominent parcels on the market. And singling out car dealers and service stations interferes with the market, she said.

"There's a reason why there's a lot of auto-oriented businesses on University Avenue: There's a demand," she said. "I don't know if this is a reaction to Target and TCF, but … those businesses are providing taxes and jobs, and they're both very successful. Clearly, there are a lot of people who are shopping at their stores."

Laura Yuen can be reached at or 651-228-5498.

A new view of the avenue, 'Block by Block'
Lawyer Lawson Waturuocha has seen the block of University Avenue storefronts near his law office transformed into a tree-lined street with more prominent windows and signage.

In that architect's rendering, the lawyer saw a glimpse of the future.

"If it ends up looking like the drawings, it will look beautiful, no question," said Waturuocha, whose business is on the northeast corner of University and Snelling avenues. "But the feasibility of it, I don't know."

The planning exercise held this spring was a test case for a new "charrette" program that will pair architects with property owners, block by block. The initiative, spearheaded by University United and dubbed "Block by Block," will also give participants a chance to dabble with Geographic Information System mapping and other resources.

Architects at the Snelling-University session, for example, heard merchants' concerns about parking shortages and designed a shared parking ramp that could be constructed behind the buildings. It's still unclear who would fund most of the improvements, but the city has pitched in about $200,000 for facade changes at the Snelling block.

Soon, the program will get a prominent home, thanks in part to a $125,000 grant from the Minneapolis Foundation. University United hopes to set up a new storefront planning center along the avenue and get the program started within three months.

Tim Griffin of the St. Paul on the Mississippi Design Center will help oversee the charrette program. Starting next spring, fellow architects with the American Institute of Architects-Minnesota will volunteer their expertise. The idea is to get neighbors to think of their block as an "investment" in which they can participate, Griffin said.

To learn more about Block by Block, call University United at 651-647-6711 or visit

A New Name for "Central Corridor"?
Posted on Wed, Jun. 28, 2006

Is it a corridor or an avenue or something else?

Today, the $840-million+ Central Corridor light-rail project is expected to get a blessing from the Metropolitan Council, a big step for mass transit in the Twin Cities.

While plenty of big logistical challenges remain - not the least of which is a "diet" to get price-bloating under control - others are on the table, too. Long-term challenges of vision, identity, image.

The light-rail project would connect the two downtowns and plenty in between. It would start at Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, go past the State Capitol, run along University Avenue in St. Paul, underneath the University of Minnesota to downtown Minneapolis. Before freeways, University was the main thoroughfare between the two downtowns.

"They have a master plan for the whole system," says Jack Silverman, vice president, account management at Bolin Marketing and Advertising in Minneapolis. "There should be a master identity plan as well."

Shortly, the Central Corridor Development Strategy Task Force plans to meet with a Toronto consultant who specializes in land-use and planning issues on transit-related development. The group's role is to create a vision for the corridor in St. Paul. Surveys and focus groups are likely. Careful listening is essential.

"We want to tease out people's highest hopes and greatest fears," says Nancy Homans, policy director with Mayor Chris Coleman's office.

Already, other people are building buzz around the corridor. Two examples:

  • Brian McMahon, executive director of University United, wants to ditch the "Central Corridor" name in favor of something that's more inviting and appealing. He argues that the new name should convey a sense of place, not a means to a place. "Corridor" is about as welcoming as the long hallway to the operating room.

The Avenue, anyone?

  • Bruce Corrie, an economics professor at Concordia University, has high hopes for a global cultural district along the eastern end of the corridor, starting at Lexington Avenue. To that end, Corrie has organized a committee to look into that idea, which would encompass business, arts and culture.

The Avenue of the World, anyone?

These two efforts alone illustrate how nuanced, diverse and potentially divisive the issues are. The trick will be to find commonalities among the stakeholders, from the car dealers and Asian restaurants to the residents who remember Rondo - in a way that encourages a sense of opportunity and ownership.

No plan can treat all interests equally. No name can make everybody happy.

But words do have meaning, and it's worthwhile to argue about what these words ought to mean.

Editorial: University LRT line should get green light

Minnesota's 30-year feud over transportation isn't entirely over. Metro and outstate interests still fight over money, and transit still feels a stepchild to roads. But the great "bus or light rail" dispute that left the Twin Cities decades behind on transit development appears to be over. The right answer, of course, is that this region needs both buses and trains, a point that the Metropolitan Council should emphasize today as it officially selects light rail as the best transit option for connecting downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Construction could begin by 2010 and trains could be gliding along University Avenue by 2013. That's a full 140 years after both cities first planned (in 1873) to remake the street into a grand, tree-lined boulevar! d with fountains, statues and a street railway running down the center. Better late than never.

When the new University line joins up with Hiawatha, the region will have the beginnings of an actual light-rail system connecting key destinations -- the downtowns, the University of Minnesota, the Mall of America, the airport and at least two new sports stadiums. The North Star commuter rail line and a number of bus-rapid-transit (BRT) lines will serve as branches. "We will never be New York where a lot of people can get along without cars, but we can make it feasible for families with three or four cars to get down to one or two, and that's a legitimate policy goal," said Met Council Chairman Peter Bell.

The council's decision to support rail over bus turns out to be not so hard after all. BRT would have reached capacity in 2020, not a good value for $241 million. Light rail costs three times more to build, but it is cheaper to operate, delivers more riders o! ver a much longer span of time and attracts far more developme! nt.

Even so, to qualify for federal matching funds, the project must start on a diet. Our preference is to trim, temporarily, the 4th Street segment between Cedar Street and Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, and to ask the city and Ramsey County to help pay for streetscape along University Avenue. It should be a higher priority to keep the tunnel at the university's East Bank campus, a feature that, if postponed now, is unlikely ever to be built. Neighborhood pressure to add stations should be resisted, also because of costs. A five-year delay has already pushed the projected cost to $930 million from $840 million, although the cuts mentioned above should knock the price back down.

The Hiawatha line's popularity has made LRT on University Avenue an easier choice. Yes, there will be disruption. Yes, there will be pressure for denser development along the corridor. But St. Paul, Minneapolis, the university and the region will be stronger for it.

Pacts give citizens a say in projects

Activists want agreements along with development
BY LAURA YUEN Pioneer Press

Is the vision romantic or radical?

Vic Rosenthal dreams of a time when faith leaders, union representatives and neighborhood activists in St. Paul can broker deals alongside real estate developers.

Under a so-called "community benefits agreement," a developer would agree to a number of social-justice demands, such as affordable housing and high-paying jobs, in exchange for the community's blessings before the developer seeks city approval for a project.

Organizers believe such provisions would ripple through surrounding neighborhoods and help "lift people out of poverty."

The California-born concept of community benefits agreements has caught on in recent years in cities such as Denver and Milwaukee, especially for projects involving public subsidies. But in St. Paul, activists like Rosenthal are hoping to extend such negotiated agreements to private developments, particularly those along a future $840 million light-rail train route on University Avenue.

A recently approved SuperTarget on the avenue rankled organizers like Rosenthal who wanted additional design changes and stronger commitment to labor issues.

"Is it the companies who are in charge? Or is it the city and community who are in charge?" asks Rosenthal, executive director of St. Paul's Jewish Community Action and member of the new University Avenue Community Coalition. Typically, he says, "the companies come in, ignore the comprehensive plan and say: 'We're going to create jobs here. Take it or leave it.' "

Organizers elsewhere have successfully used the legally binding tools, known as CBAs, for the $11 billion modernization of the Los Angeles International Airport and an eco-friendly mega-project in San Diego. Developers in the latter case took the extra step last fall of agreeing to consider towers with nonreflective glass - to prevent birds from crashing into the high-rises.

Progressives consider the trend a win-win situation for communities and businesses, but critics say it muddies the planning process and intrudes on private-property rights. Lori Fritts, president of the Midway Chamber of Commerce, said writing stiffer rules into individualized contracts could jeopardize projects.

"If (developers) want to invest in the community, they want community support," Fritts said. "The more difficult we make that - and make them legally liable for something they can't control or can't accomplish - we're not helping."

Instead of adding another layer to the system, activist Brian McMahon says, his social-equity colleagues should take their message to elected officials and district councils.

"I can understand their underlying desires and goals. The problem is:
How do you identify who represents the community?" said McMahon, director of University United, a planning coalition. "Here's the reality: A big-time developer will basically either find or set up community groups, or buy off community groups. . The process gets pretty complicated."


In St. Paul, Rosenthal and fellow coalition member Nieeta Presley point to the bulldozed corner at Lexington Parkway and University Avenue to show how development can fall short of community expectations. A new Aldi discount grocery and a TCF bank disappointed activists who called them an uninspired fit for a future light-rail train intersection.

But their group helped persuade developer Steve Wellington to abandon his original plans for a retail strip mall. Wilder Foundation officials just broke ground there for a $37 million headquarters, and a senior housing complex is in the pipeline. Wellington now wants to build 75 mid-level condominiums within the next year, an idea that came out of regular meetings he had with community representatives.

"We continue to be a little puzzled with this (group's) modest grouchiness around a project that I think is kind of heroic," Wellington said. "This does not seem like an example of a project that doesn't work."

"To some extent," he added, "the market needs to be driving certain decisions as well. You can't force development into unprofitable corners."

Proponents in St. Paul say the community-minded rhetoric of Mayor Chris Coleman and a new city task force on the Central Corridor redevelopment makes benefits agreements ripe for consideration.

"So often the developers don't come to the community first," said Jessica Treat, executive director of the Lexington-Hamline Community Council. "We're the ones who shop here. We're the ones who live here."

Treat was counting on Coleman to take a position against suburban- style, big-box retailers that have proliferated on University Avenue.

Indeed, last month he issued a strongly worded statement against such kinds of development - but only after approving the new SuperTarget.

City goals for minority contracting and affordable housing are already on the books for projects seeking city subsidy. But forcing conditions on an unsubsidized project for which the city lacks any real leverage might cause St. Paul to miss out on development opportunities, said Nancy Homans, Coleman's policy director.

"We wouldn't want to go too far down the path of creating requirements that aren't in other cities in the metropolitan area," Homans said. "We are in a competitive environment, and we would want to strike a balance between private-property rights and public responsibility."


CBAs have sprouted in other cities since 2001, when Los Angeles community groups negotiated several conditions for a major hotel and entertainment hub around Staples Center, said Greg LeRoy, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Good Jobs First. Labor and neighborhood leaders heralded it as a model for urban partnerships.

The concept also has emerged as a way to "negotiate tension," particularly in cities that are experiencing gentrification, LeRoy said.

"You're giving people in the neighborhood a real chance to shape the neighborhood, increasing the chance that they won't be displaced, that they will have jobs and that they will prosper with the project," he said.

The Minneapolis City Council could sign off on a benefits agreement as early as this summer when it decides on a wireless Internet proposal. One of the conditions requested by a community coalition is free or low-cost Internet access for the poor.

In San Diego, benefits organizers representing 27 groups hashed out a contract with developers behind Ballpark Village, the biggest development project in the city's history. In addition to the bird- friendly buildings, developers signed off on 200 affordable housing units and some of the highest environmental standards in the country for a residential high-rise.

"I don't think either side believed we would be able to do a deal, but as we got into it, it came to be a really in-depth process," said Paul Karr, a spokesman for the Center of Policy Initiatives, one of the lead organizing groups.

"The developers, who saw us probably as a bunch of hippies in some sort of peace parade, actually got to learn that we're pretty bright, we know our issues well, and we wanted to know their issues as well," he said.

Laura Yuen can be reached at or 651-228-5498.


What are community benefits agreements?

CBAs are legally binding contracts that spell out the provisions a developer will follow in exchange for the community's support. These commitments often include affordable housing, living-wage requirements, and transit-oriented and sustainable development and hiring goals.

Why would a developer agree to those conditions?

Projects often need community backing if developers are seeking public subsidy or city approval.

How do they get started?

In most cases, community coalitions approach the developers before government approval of a project. Negotiations in other cities have lasted at least a few months and often longer. Ideally, organizers say, attorneys for both the coalition and developer are brought in to formalize the contracts after the parties have reached an agreement.

Legal fees can be costly, a disadvantage especially for the neighborhood groups.

How did the movement start in St. Paul?

Community groups started meeting in late 2004 with city officials and a developer about plans for a 5-acre site at Lexington Parkway and University Avenue. Although a CBA never materialized, the conversations helped produce a two-story bank and plans for affordable senior housing on the corner.

What do local organizers want from the city?

The University Avenue Community Coalition is hoping the city will eventually adopt CBAs for major development projects.

First, the city would sign off on an agreed set of principles that would subject future projects to those shared values. Additionally, it would require developers to meet with grass-roots organizers to negotiate the terms of the project. No city in the nation has been known to adopt CBAs as across-the-board policy, but the agreements have increasingly become popular on individual projects.

To learn more

For more information about community benefits agreements, visit the Partnership for Working Families at
Information about CBA efforts in the Twin Cities can be found at

UNITED Comments on Central Corridor Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Comments Regarding the Central Corridor Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Submitted by University UNITED
1954 University Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55082
(651) 647-6711

June 5, 2006 (Revised)

At its Board meeting on May 15, 2006, University UNITED created a Task Force for the purpose of responding to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Central Corridor project. This Task Force met on May 24th, and reviewed the comments of a number of other community organizations including the District Council Collaborative (DCC), the Midway TMO, the draft comments of the City of St. Paul, and the like. Because UNITED's mission is land use and the advocacy of transit-oriented development, it was agreed to focus its comments on the land use implications of the proposed project. Land use is an important part of this project, as described in one of the objectives enumerated in the DEIS:

"Objective: Promote a reliable transit system that allows an efficient, effective land use development pattern in major activity centers which minimizes parking demand, facilitates the highest and best use of adjacent properties, and gives employers confidence that employees can travel to/from work."

The following are the comments of University UNITED:

1.) Right of Way Improvements. The project, as originally envisioned, calls for a rebuilding of the entire street right-of-way from building front to building front. UNITED strongly supports this position. To help guide this re-building, we recommend that design guidelines be developed for streetscape improvements, buildings and the public realm.

2.) Station Placement. UNITED supports studying the possibility of adding additional stations along the line including, but not limited to, Western, Victoria, and Hamline Avenues. Criteria need to be established regarding the basis for selecting station locations, whether as part of the first phase of the project, or at a later time.

3.) Connectivity and Accessibility. UNITED supports the calls from a number of its community partners for improved connector transit service feeding into the Central Corridor, as well as insuring an ease of crossing University Avenue by car, bicycle or walking.

4.) Zoning, TOD, Travel Demand Management Strategies, Development Limited Moratorium. In order to meet one of the critical objectives of the project there needs to be better coordination and connection between transportation and land use policies. Zoning, city funding, development procedures and the like, must reinforce the goal of decreasing reliance on the automobile, and increasing the use of transit. The criteria of TOD should be incorporated into zoning and all land use approvals. For large development parcels in public ownership, such as the "bus barn site" at Snelling, there should be covenants ensuring that future development will be TOD. A short term and limited scope development moratorium should be immediately instituted to bring clarity to the development process and to insure that opportunities for TOD are preserved.

In addition, there should be a concerted effort to incorporate Travel Demand Strategies into all land use and development approvals. The following are two instructive examples as to how this can work:

Planning Magazine, May 2006
Excerpts from "Playing the Numbers Game"

"One way to deal with the inherent uncertainty of traffic analysis is to place less emphasis on traffic forecasts and to focus instead on achieving a specific trip reduction as a policy goal."

Examples of Travel Demand Management Tied to Land Use Approvals:

An example is Montgomery County, Maryland, part of the Washington, D.C. metro area. In the late 1980s, developers of the Silver Spring Metro Center were required to agree to stringent mode choice objectives as a condition of development approval. They had to guarantee a 30 percent transit mode share and a car pooling rate of 1.3 persons per vehicle. The alternative was to ensure that auto drivers would make up no more 50 percent of employees arriving or departing at peak times.

Nearby Fairfax County, Virginia, adopted trip-reduction targets in December, 2004 as a condition of a comprehensive plan amendment to allow dense, transit-oriented development adjacent to the Vienna Metrorail Station. For office uses, the county mandates a 25 percent reduction in peak-hour vehicle trips; for residential, the target is 47 percent.

5.) Parking, Park and Ride, Shared Parking. The overarching goal of the Central Corridor project is to reduce automobile usage. However, there may be justification to explore the possibility of locating a parking ramp within the Midway regional retail cluster that could serve a dual purpose of parking for light rail and shopping. Additionally, plans currently call for the removal of approximately 600 parking spots along the street as part of the project. UNITED agrees with the City's position that there is no obligation to compensate or mitigate for the loss of that parking. However, we recommend that the City and County explore the possibility of creating a funding source that could be used to promote off-street shared parking on a block by block basis along the corridor. The Snelling Block Initiative is potentially a good demonstration project for how this could work. Finally, UNITED believes there is now sufficient data available to justify a rewriting of the City's zoning code to reduce the amount of required off-street parking for new projects.

6.) Commercial Gentrification. UNITED is recommending that every effort be made to protect the small retail businesses along the corridor to insure their long term viability. We recommend that the project retain a retail and marketing consultant to study how similarly situated corridors in other cities fared on this issue. In particular, it would be helpful to determine the types of businesses and land use that were positively impacted by light rail, and to develop a guidebook outlining ways that small merchants can prepare for the future. UNITED also believes it is appropriate to explore the potential of reinforcing ethnic retail clusters through various policies and programs.

7.) Marketing/ Branding. For years the term "Central Corridor" has been used to identify this project. We believe this term offers little potential to support a marketing and branding effort for promoting University Avenue or the adjoining neighborhoods. In fact, it's continued use represents a squandering of "brand equity". UNITED supports the establishment of a process to promote a marketing/ branding study. We believe the terminology for the name of the light rail project and its individual stations should be studied as part of this process.

8.) Traffic Congestion. Concerns have been raised about the possibility of the proposed light rail line exacerbating automobile congestion. UNITED calls for a transportation study of a larger area bounded by I-94 on the south, Highway 36 on the north, I-35E and I-35W. We have previously expressed our concerns about a piece-meal study of congestion issues at various nodes, such as Snelling, in the absence of a more comprehensive overview. We would strongly oppose any proposal for easing traffic congestion that would work at cross purposes for meeting TOD or transit objectives.

9.) Parks, Open Space, Dickerman Park. Special efforts should be made to incorporate green space and parks into the amenity value and identity of the light rail line.

10.) Crime Prevention. UNITED urges that a coordinated and comprehensive crime prevention strategy be designed into the project, working with community organizations along the corridor and UNITED. There should be a reaffirmation of the importance of "Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design" (CPTED) to prohibit blank walls at station areas, such as what occurred with the CVS project at Snelling. In addition there should be a "Code of Conduct" created outlining behavioral expectations for transit riders.

11.) Energy Spine. UNITED urges an exploration of the possibility of installing an energy/ utility trunk line in a roadway trench if the street were to be dug up for light rail. This could promote economic development and offer a competitive advantage for the corridor. In addition, if the spine could utilize locally generated power, not dependent on the regional power grid, it would offer protection from a regional power failure, and/or a national security emergency.

12.) Organizational/ Process. UNITED urges that the project recognize and support grass roots community collaborations such as the District Councils Collaborative (DCC) and the University Avenue Merchants Association (UAMA) and its chapter organizations such as that being formed by District 7 and 8 at the Dale Street node.

13.) Design/Build versus Contractor Bid. UNITED recognizes the respective benefits of letting the light rail construction be bid on a Design/ Build or as a conventional straight bid process. We are concerned that a Design/ Build approach can have the effect of removing the community from vital design decisions that are made as the construction process is underway, as occurred on the Hiawatha line. We recommend that the bid process options be analyzed with an eye to insuring continued community involvement and oversight.

14.) Data and Map Sharing. During the upcoming preliminary engineering phase, UNITED requests that the information gathered by the consultants be formatted in a way that could be made available to community organizations for the purpose of community based planning. UNITED, and other groups, are in the process of establishing a collaborative, publicly accessible GIS network.

Name Change for Central Corridor?"

Central Corridor: Time for a name change?
By Bill Clements, F&C Feature Writer
June 15, 2006

Brian McMahon, head of University United, thinks the name of the Central Corridor light-rail transit project should be changed to better reflect its location along University Avenue.

"We believe this term offers little potential to support a marketing and branding effort for promoting University Avenue or the adjoining neighborhoods," McMahon wrote in University United's comments on the draft environmental impact statement on the construction of either light rail or a beefed-up busway along University.

"In fact, its continued use represents a squandering of 'brand equity,'" he added.

The public had a chance to submit comments and suggestions involving either light rail or the busway during a 45-day comment period that ended June 5.

The next day, the Central Corridor Coordinating Committee recommended that the Metropolitan Council support building light rail along University between the downtowns, a project estimated at $840 million.

The Met Council on June 30 is expected to support the light-rail choice and request permission from the Federal Transit Administration to enter the preliminary engineering phase of the project.

"I don't think we've thought about [changing the name]. In fact, I'm sure we haven't," said Steve Morris, Central Corridor project manager. "But logically, the Met Council would designate the name of the route as part of their transportation network."

Morris added that in the initial stages of the project 10 years ago, the name had to be generic because no one knew for sure where a light-rail system might go.

Article on MTMO Parking Study

Wasted Space
By Bill Clements, F&C Feature Writer
June 15, 2006

A new study of parking capacity along University Avenue in St. Paul confirms what observation suggests: There's too much parking in that busy corridor.

Even during peak parking-demand periods, many spots in off-street surface lots belonging to retail entities along University remain empty, according to the study, which will be released publicly today.
St. Paul's zoning code is mostly responsible for the excess, as it requires new retail entities to provide more parking spaces than they need, according to Russ Stark, author of the study and director of the Midway Transportation Management Organization, an affiliate of the University United community group.

The code requires extra parking spots to avoid having drivers spill over onto residential streets in search of parking spots.

But having too many parking spaces is also a negative, Stark said, mostly because extra spots occupy land that could be used for more responsible or lucrative development.

"Consider what you could do with the extra land freed up by less surface parking," he said.

St. Paul officials should lower parking requirements along University to better match parking-space usage in that busy corridor, Stark said.

In the early 1990s, city officials looked at the issue and lowered some parking requirements, according to Larry Soderholm, planning administrator for the St. Paul department of Planning and Economic Development (PED).

But the changes have proven inadequate.

"The study is right," said Soderholm, who serves as PED's liaison with the St. Paul Planning Commission and has reviewed the new data.

"Our parking requirements are too high. We should find a way to reduce the requirements; at the very least, they should be reduced in the highest transit areas, like University Avenue."

When dealing with new developments, Stark said, the city should limit the percentage of the overall site that can be used for surface parking to somewhere around 40 percent.

"What we find with big-box retailers is that about 70 percent of their overall square footage is devoted to parking," Stark said. "The CVS Pharmacy [at University and Snelling avenues] is 70 percent parking. The Aldi at Lexington and University is about 75 percent parking. I'd guess the Target there now is about 67 percent parking lot."

Both Stark and Soderholm say the new study points to the need for careful parking-related planning during the early stages of designing the Central Corridor light-rail transit (LRT) system that's expected to span both downtowns, mostly along University Avenue.

"As we do transit-oriented development (TOD) planning around the LRT stations," Soderholm said, "we should really hold down the amount of parking. And the first thing we can do is not require parking, which would require a change to our city code."

The new study points out that current plans for the LRT system would remove about 20 percent of existing on-street parking on University Avenue, mostly in the intersections where the LRT stations would go.

To handle parking capacity along the LRT, Stark said, the city should use "shared" parking lots, which could be either existing private lots managed in a different way or new municipal lots. No municipal lots exist along University now.

"The city needs to look at this on a station-by-station, block-by-block basis and figure out where along the way there are opportunities to put in shared parking lots," Stark said.

Soderholm said city planners in general "hate to balkanize a city like that, where there are different rules for different streets." But sometimes that's what has to happen, he said.

St. Paul is a good example of where such an approach is needed, according to Stark, because parking issues differ from one spot to another.

"Parking in St. Paul is a tale of two cities," Stark said. "On University Avenue, we have too much parking and not enough development, but on Grand Avenue we have too much development and not enough parking.

"From a citywide perspective, you have to balance those two ends of the parking spectrum," he added.

In fact, Soderholm said, the planning commission is about to recommend to the city council the creation of a zoning overlay district along east Grand Avenue that will force new businesses to provide any and all required parking spots.

Previously, if the zoning code required a new business to provide five or fewer additional parking spots than the previous business occupant, than the new business didn't have to provide any new parking. This is known as "the Rule of 5," Soderholm said.

Under the new zoning along east Grand Avenue, the rule will be abolished and new businesses will have to provide for even one additional parking space.

Posted on Sun, Dec. 04, 2005

Parkland visualized as oasis
Planners hope to redesign University Avenue space that is mostly parking lot
Pioneer Press

It's time to make good on an old promise. In 1909, two brothers in the real estate business donated a plot of University Avenue parkland to the city of St. Paul. Since then, the land has experienced the indignity of being cut up, paved over and parked on for the past several decades.

Dickerman Park, named after the brothers who donated it, today looks more like an underwhelming hodge-podge of front lawns and parking spaces for neighboring businesses.

That could change in a big way — so big that even the Dickermans couldn't have imagined this Dickerman Park.

A community-guided design team wants to transform the city-owned land between Fairview Avenue and Aldine Street into an edgy, urban public space that shares the idealism of downtown Chicago's Millennium Park.

Renderings that will be unveiled to the public Thursday highlight the spine of the linear park — a quarter-mile-long walkway lined with oak trees and illuminated picture walls. Images by Twin Cities photographer Wing Young Huie would showcase the diverse intersection of people who work and live along University Avenue, a blue-collar artery often overshadowed by the trendier Grand and Selby avenues.

A café and art gallery, gardens and a plaza of water jets would also define the 2.5-acre space, which at its widest is only 150 feet.

"What we're advocating is place-making — things happening along the corridor that will make people want to get out of their cars, out of the (proposed) light rail, out of the bus," said Brian McMahon, who heads the planning group University United, which helped organize a community task force that guided the new design.

"We're not just a fly zone between two downtowns," McMahon said. "We are a place. This will be the crown jewel of everything we envision in the corridor."

He and others admit that the proposed $5 million makeover is ambitious. Many people think of University Avenue as a place to catch a bus, get their oil changed or fill up on Asian spring rolls.

They don't think "international destination," which is what its Minneapolis-based landscape architects, Coen and Partners, are hoping to create.

Financing will be the most obvious challenge to the park's redevelopment. McMahon expects it would require up to $4 million from private donors and the remaining amount from the city or federal grants. With that task ahead, supporters say it will likely take at least until spring 2007 for construction to begin.

But at least one family already has given generously to the cause. A $50,000 gift from descendants of the Dickerman brothers paid for the preliminary design. Kent Dickerman of St. Paul learned through a 2003 Pioneer Press article about the park's future that his grandfather and great-uncle had donated the land. Excited about discovering a Dickerman Park in his own town, he called relatives across the country to raise money for its redevelopment.

Since March, about 20 members of nearby neighborhood groups, property owners, Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County, Public Art St. Paul and other community organizations helped steer the design.

Shane Coen, the firm's principal, said he wants people to experience the park up close but also while cruising by; the park should be appreciated at "various speeds," Coen said. He and Coen and Partners associate Stephanie Grotta said they were most intrigued by the Midway's perpetually changing character — from railroad and trucking corridor to an industrial manufacturing beltway to a residential enclave for immigrants and families of color.

That diversity provides plenty of material for Huie, a photographer who has shown his curiosity for urban streets through past projects in the Frogtown neighborhood and Lake Street in Minneapolis. Since March, his encounters in the Midway have led him to pictures of everyday life. One is a portrait of the Eritrean-born owner of the Snelling Café. Another shot shows a longtime customer getting a haircut at the old-fashioned New Style Barbers.

"We're redefining what Minnesota is. My goal is to reflect the neighborhood in such a way that no one would come to the park and say, 'How come I'm not represented?' " Huie said.

The neighborhoods around University Avenue, it is said, are a microcosm of America, but most residents never have the chance to tell their stories.

"It's amazing how many people want to be photographed and to be paid attention to," he said.

Come spring, riders of the No. 16 bus will get a glimpse of the project. A $30,000 demonstration project, funded through a city neighborhood-revitalization grant, will display Huie's latest photography on the bus stops at Fairview Avenue and at Wheeler Street.

Though money is by far the biggest obstacle, 4th Ward City Council Member Jay Benanav predicts that a growing enthusiasm about the park, coupled with the recent additions of housing and businesses along the corridor, will push the project forward.

The other unresolved conundrum, Benanav acknowledges, is parking. The two portions of the park that now serve as parking lots — one for the hulking Griggs-Midway office building and the other for a charter school — would disappear under the proposal. In 1957, the city gave the owners of Griggs-Midway permission to pave over the western portion of the park for about 40 spaces. The city also allowed the nearby YMCA to build a 10-car lot on the site in 1977.

Nell McClung, property manager for Griggs-Midway, said the task force promised the nearby businesses, which now maintain the park, that it would address the loss of parking spaces. But as the group's meetings continued over the past several months, that focus became less central to the discussion, McClung said. She would like to see some public funding go to a new parking ramp in back of her office building, which houses about 140 tenants.

To be sure, McClung said, the people who work in the buildings would benefit from the park. But she expressed skepticism about how widely used it would be.

Most of the housing is two or three blocks away, and some is across the intimidating barrier of University Avenue, she said. "I just don't see the community coming and using the park."

Kent Dickerman's wife, Ariel, acknowledged that it would take a sea change in public perception to make it a success. In fact, on a recent trip to take her husband's two out-of-town sisters for a drive by the park, she literally drove by, not realizing she had passed it.

Ariel Dickerman said that neither she nor her husband had ever thought about their own vision for the space, and they certainly had never expected the designs to evolve into anything so grand.

"We just didn't want it to get lost in the shuffle," she said. "We want whatever the neighborhood wants. I feel strongly that this is their park."

Laura Yuen can be reached at or 651-228-5498.

If you go:

The preliminary designs for Dickerman Park will be unveiled to the public at 6 p.m. Thursday at Marsden Building Maintenance, 1717 W. University Ave. To get more information or to find out how you can contribute, call University United at 651-647-6711 or visit

© 2005 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Editorial: University Avenue must prepare for LRT
Star Tribune, November 27, 2005

St. Paul Mayor-elect Chris Coleman faces no more important task than getting University Avenue ready for light rail. It will be hard enough to push ahead on federal and state funding for the $840 million project. It will be harder still to retrofit the architecture -- and the mind-set -- of a corridor that continues to encourage big-box retail, vast parking lots and more auto traffic.That sort of suburbanization is incompatible with light rail and, if it continues, could jeopardize federal support. St. Paul must understand that light rail is as much about land use as transportation. The best course now is for Coleman to launch a broad, long-range planning process for the avenue that includes everyone.Already St. Paul has one of the best such models anywhere: the Phalen Corridor. Replicating Phalen's energy, commitment and spirit along University is a good place to start. The projects are different, to be sure. Phalen's overriding vision has been to enhance jobs and social stability on the gritty East Side. University Avenue has more assets but far less consensus on what it should become. As with Phalen, forging a new corridor will take a unified vision, collaboration and the kind of marketing sizzle that Phalen's project director, Curt Milburn, has supplied. All parties, beginning with neighbors and local businesses, must come to see the project as theirs. Most important, they must imagine the avenue not as it is now, but as it should be in 25 years -- and then set policies to ensure the outcome they choose.Rezoning the corridor for transit-oriented development, opposed by Randy Kelly's administration, would make a good beginning. A new Lowe's, Best Buy and SuperTarget might still be possible. But their designs should be compatible with a city lifestyle that depends less on the auto for every trip. Questioning Metro Transit's bus garage deal on Snelling Avenue is imperative. Does it make sense to sell transit-owned land next to a future LRT station without requiring that any new development would complement transit?Accommodating the concerns of small business is another important factor. Concentrating first on the blocks west of Snelling, where transit-oriented development is most welcome, might also make sense. Success there could spread eastward.Coleman is on the right track when he says St. Paul must stop just responding to developers' ideas and get out ahead with a prospective plan for the Midway District. Getting University Avenue ready for light rail is vital for the city and region.

Posted on Thu, Nov. 03, 2005

Snelling bus barn debate is important for St. Paul

While the sale of the Midway Sheraton property to Target appears to be a done deal, the disposition of the Metro Transit bus barn site at Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94 is anything but. Indeed, there are a number of issues that must be resolved and a number of projects that'll hinge on that resolution.

We're happy to report that the debate over how the bus barn site can be sold is now settled. For the longest time, some, including the Met Council, argued that it had to be a land swap because that was the only means by which to keep happy the Federal Transit Administration, which gave the Met Council huge subsidies for the property long ago. That no longer appears to be the case.

"We could use the proceeds from the sale of the Snelling site for FTA-approved transit infrastructure improvements," said Met Council spokesman Steve Dornfeld. "The larger issue is that we need another bus garage in the Midway area if we are to expand bus service in the east metro area."


In other words, the Met Council is using the commercial desirability of the bus barn site to ensure that it gets a bus barn site in the East Metro.

Which brings us to 807 Hampden Ave., the property north of University Avenue where the Met Council would like to put its east metro bus barn. To the consternation of many, 807 Hampden is also one block north of Carleton Lofts, an upscale housing development that's expected to break ground in the middle of this month.

Brad Johnson, manager of University Carleton Development, which is embarking on the $120 million, two-phase development of lofts and condos, told Finance and Commerce that he would be hesitant to go ahead with Phase II - two new buildings with 200 to 250 condos - if the bus barn goes in at 807 Hampden. It's too late to stop Phase I.

City Councilman Jay Benanav agrees with developers and community activists like University United's Brian McMahon that 807 Hampden is a bad site for the bus barn.

"We're going to ask the Met Council to just sell the land and take that money and use it to reduce their bonding request for transportation from the state Legislature," Benanav said. "That money could even be used for light rail."


That's the other issue roiling the development of the bus barn site. There are plans in the works to build a Lowe's home improvement store and a Best Buy on the site. But McMahon, Benanav and others argue that the last thing the congested intersection needs is big box retail, which will only bring more traffic.

"That's a concern," said Benanav. "It doesn't mean it's a deal killer, but that area is already pretty congested."

We agree. A new transit study is the works that's expected to confirm that University and Snelling avenues is one of the busiest intersections in the state. It's also expected to include recommendations on what to do about it.

The other question related to Lowe's (and transit) is how far out the city should start planning for light rail.

"I think we're close enough now," said Benanav. "I think it'll happen within five or six years."

If light rail does come to University Avenue, something we've long supported, is another big box retailer the best thing to put near an intersection already congested with traffic and slated to be a major light rail stop? We're somewhat reluctant to say "no" because some local residents clearly welcome the Lowe's and Best Buy (and Target, Cub and CVS), which all save them a trip to comparable stores in the suburbs.

We're also sympathetic to the concerns voiced by McMahon and others that all of this is happening in somewhat of a vacuum, bereft of a comprehensive area development plan from the city. We understand the trepidations of Mayor Randy Kelly and his planning czar, Susan Kimberly, who argue that University Avenue development will boom with - and be predicated upon - light rail. But we also think the city, which has a modest plan in hand, could do more to lure the kinds of businesses and developments now that it knows will come with light rail.

In short, the debates around development of the bus barn site are important. The Met Council should give more than lip service to concerns from legitimate neighborhood voices opposing the 807 Hampden site. We can understand Metro Transit's need for an east metro bus barn, but is this the only site that works?

Finally, what moves into the bus barn site needs to be decided with an eye toward the future, namely its impact on local traffic and its fit with light rail. Those are the questions that must be answered before anything can be done with the site.

© 2005 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Market's working in the Midway
Posted on Tue, Nov. 01, 2005

Midway community groups are marching on St. Paul City Hall again, pitchforks in hand. The occasion is the closing of the Midway Sheraton hotel and plans for redevelopment of the site. Target Corp. was to have closed on the property Monday.Brian McMahon of University United, the perpetual Midway thorn in city officials' side, complains that the hotel contributed $100,000 annually in taxes to the St. Paul Convention and Visitors Bureau, but all will be lost with the closing of the hotel, a Midway asset, in his view. That's partially true."We have estimated that the CVB previously received approximately $119,000 in occupancy tax receipts from that property annually," said Karolyn Kirchgesler, president and CEO of the St. Paul Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We would assume that some of the business booked at the Midway Sheraton will now be placed into other properties within St. Paul, so while we expect to be down due to the closing, we don't anticipate losing the entire amount."We agree with her that some of the business will go to other St. Paul hotel properties - and some elsewhere. We also stand by our contention in a June editorial that the free market worked well at the site.The St. Paul Port Authority sold the property, which was repossessed three times, to what it deemed the best bidder - Target - for $8.6 million. The next highest bid of $8.5 million came from local developer Kevin Lam, who hoped to keep the hotel open.While the loss of hotel taxes is indeed a concern for the visitors bureau, we'll reiterate our June editorial position that the Port Authority had no obligation to do what's right by "the Midway" - whatever that is. Its only obligation was to serve the best interests of its bondholders.If there's a need for another hotel in the Midway, we're sure the market will find a way to put it there.

© 2005 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Last days near for Midway Sheraton

By Bill Clements, F & C Feature Writer
October 27, 2005

The Four Points Sheraton hotel in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood will shut down next Monday, officially putting its 108 full- and part-time employees out of work.

The 24-year-old hotel is being shuttered just ahead of the scheduled Nov. 10 closing date between the seller, a bond fund for the St. Paul Port Authority (SPPA), and the buyer, Target Corp.

In June, those two inked an $8.6 million purchase agreement for the hotel, which was built in 1981 through an $8.9 million bond issue from the SPPA-managed 876 Common Revenue Bond Fund. Proceeds from the sale will go into the 876 Bond Fund.

"We're going to close the hotel on Oct. 31," said Tom Collins, an SPPA spokesman. "We'll keep the building secure until the 10th and then Target will take over."

Target is expected to tear down the 168,000-square-foot hotel in order to have room to expand its adjacent Midway Target store into either a SuperTarget or a Target Greatland.

Minneapolis-based Target has been eager to make the move since rival retail giant Wal-Mart entered the Midway neighborhood in 2004. Target did not return calls for this story.

"It's a difficult situation," said Lori Fritts, a member of SPPA's board of commissioners as well as president of the Midway Chamber of Commerce. "We will very much miss the Sheraton. They are a member of ours; we will feel their absence.

"But we also know that Target's worked hard to get a bigger store in Midway, and so we are happy about getting more shoppers in the area.

"And with all the development going on around here," Fritts added, "hopefully it won't be too long before we get another hotel and banquet facility, one that will better fit the area - and be financially successful.

"Hopefully, the Sheraton's employees will be taken care of."

Collins said the SPPA has been working hard to take care of the hotel's employees.

"We've been very concerned that people are losing their jobs," Collins said, "and we're doing everything we can to make sure they get the help they need."

In particular, the port authority assigned a company that it partners with - St. Paul-based Employer Solutions Inc. - to help the hotel's soon-to-be-former employees get back on their feet.

Janet Ludden, CEO of Employer Solutions Inc., said that working with the SPPA and the state's Dislocated Worker Program's rapid response team helped the Sheraton situation to be categorized as a "mass layoff."

That categorization enabled Ludden, the state and the port authority to put together a full program of resources for Sheraton employees.

For months now, Ludden said, most of those employees have been participating in on-site employment-related resources like job searches and resume and interview classes. In fact, of the 108 employees losing their jobs, Ludden said, 102 signed up for the program.

"That's absolutely unprecedented," Ludden said. She added that "a healthy percentage" of the employees have already gotten something set up for the future. The employment services will continue for a year.

"It's been a real privilege being involved in what's turned out to be the best possible handling of a very unfortunate situation," Ludden said.

St. Paul gets Federal Money for Union Depot and Bike/Walk:

The recently passed new federal transportation bill included a $50 million set-aside for redevelopment of the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul into a multi-modal transportation hub. It also included $25 million over the next four years for a “non-motorized transportation pilot program” for Minneapolis and St. Paul to demonstrate that biking and walking can play a significant role in urban transportation infrastructure. It is not yet clear where this bike/walk money will be spent, but the bill specifies that it can be used for infrastructure and advocacy/promotion, and specifically mentions Transit for Livable Communities (an organization that the TMO and University UNITED frequently works with) as a recipient of the funds.

Target is high bidder on Sheraton site

Pioneer Press

After months of speculation about a future SuperTarget in the Midway area of St. Paul, Target Corp. has an $8.6 million purchase agreement with the Saint Paul Port Authority to buy the Four Points Sheraton hotel property to expand its nearby Target store.

Both Target Corp. and the Saint Paul Port Authority's Board of Commissioners must approve the sale, according to Port Authority spokesman Tom Collins, who wouldn't detail Target's plans for the Midway store expansion. A call to Minneapolis-based Target was not returned at noon. Commissioners will hold a public hearing at 2 p.m. June 28 to consider the Target purchase agreement.

Target would have 90 days after the Port Authority board's approval to conduct its due diligence and to submit the proposed sale to a corporation management committee for final approval. A closing is expected in late October.

The site, near Hamline and Interstate 94, is east of a shopping center that includes the city's first Wal-Mart store. Target also is turning its Roseville store, the first Target store in the nation, into a SuperTarget.

Construction of the Four Points Sheraton Hotel was financed in 1981 through an $8.9 million bond-issue that was part of the Port Authority-managed 876 Common Revenue Bond Fund. Fund bonds are revenue bonds. Any tax revenue of the Port Authority or any other governmental body does not back these bonds.

The net sale proceeds would be returned to the 876 Common Revenue Bond Fund, which owns the hotel property. Target's bid was the highest of three, Collins said. "We are contractually obligated to get the best deal we can for 876 Fund bondholders and we have done that in this case," Port Authority President Ken Johnson said.

The hotel's 108 full- and part-time employees will continue to work until the hotel shuts its doors for the last time, possibly Oct. 31, Collins said. They will receive a severance package that includes health insurance coverage for six month for those covered by the hotel's existing plan, a minimum of two weeks pay, plus one week pay per year of service, and job placement assistance.

Bus barn imbroglio invites plenty of finger pointing

There is no shortage of blame for the failure of the Snelling Avenue bus barn site to be redeveloped over the past 20 years.

By Bill Clements/F&C Feature Writer
June 16, 2005

Everybody's pointing fingers at somebody else, and still one of the best pieces of real estate in St. Paul sits vacant.

Well, not entirely vacant. A few broken-down buses occupy the 14.2-acre Snelling Avenue bus barn site between University Avenue and Interstate 94, amid piles of dirt. It's been that way since Metro Transit tore down the actual bus barn more than three years ago.

In terms of prime, re-developable property, the site is near the top of the city of St. Paul's list. And various redevelopment plans for the site have appeared and disappeared over the years, stretching back more than 20 years.

But still nothing.

Now, St. Paul officials are pressing hard to get something done by trying to force some action from Metro Transit, which is operated by the Metropolitan Council and owns 9.5 of the 14.2 acres.

The owners of the adjacent Midway Center shopping mall, New York City-based RD Management, own the other 4.7 acres and want to buy the rest of the site to build a $12 million retail center. They, too, are pointing at Metro Transit/Met Council.

"Here's an opportunity for everyone to be on the same team - the developer, the chambers of commerce, the city and the Met Council," said Paula Maccabee, a consultant for RD Management and onetime St. Paul City Council member. "It's very frustrating that we are not all jumping on the bandwagon for this development."

For its part, the Met Council is pointing at the federal government, which in 1907 covered 80 percent of the cost of building and maintaining the original streetcar facility on the site. That facility switched to a bus garage in the 1950s.

For years, Met Council officials have claimed the only deal they could do is a land swap, because federal regulations mandated that if they sold the property they'd have to refund the feds their 80 percent investment.

But information unearthed by the University United community group in federal documents recently indicates there's a way around those mandates - as long as a transit-oriented development (TOD) is built on such a site.

Armed with that information, the city is pushing forward, hoping to develop the property and get it on the tax rolls.

"The Met Council has always said that a land swap is the only way they can do this," said Susan Kimberly, director of St. Paul's department of planning and economic development.

"But in the past few months we've learned that's not the only alternative. We've researched the federal regulations, and a swap is not the only way."

She said the Met Council can sell the property and escrow that money until it comes time to buy and/or build another site.

Kimberly added that her department "has been working well with the Met Council on this. We almost came to an agreement last August about moving them to 807 Hampden [Avenue]. But that didn't work out.

"I assume they understand the value of this property, and that they will not be obstructionist. We've got to get going on this."

Tom Weaver, regional administrator for the Met Council, said the ball is in the city's court.

"Could we dispose of the Snelling site for TOD purposes and retain the federal share?" Weaver wrote in an e-mail. "Under certain circumstances, that is permitted. We have acknowledged as much.

"However, we've also consistently maintained that such an approach is unacceptable to us. We have a fiduciary duty to use our resources in a manner that provides the greatest benefit to taxpayers and transit customers - and giving up the Snelling parcel without getting an acceptable garage site in return would be a complete and inexcusable abrogation of that duty.

"We have made our position on this clear to the city on numerous occasions, and they appeared to understand and accept our concerns. So, it is our position that a swap IS the only option."

In an interview, Weaver added that giving up the Snelling site without a replacement would rob the Met Council of all its leverage.

"But for St. Paul's interest [in developing it]," he said, "we'd be content to sit on the property until it came time to build a transit facility again."

Brian Lamb, general manager of Metro Transit, said it would try to get funds to build a new East Metro garage in its capital appropriations for the 2009-2010 biennium.

Part of the controversy stretches back to late 1997 and early 1998. That's when, during negotiations over a new East Metro bus garage site (one was built at Cayuga Street and the Mississippi), Metro Transit officials said a new garage would replace the Snelling garage, making that site available for redevelopment.

But as 1998 wore on with a new governor and then new leadership at the Met Council and Metro Transit, priorities changed. By October 1998, the Met Council was saying it needed another new facility, possibly at Snelling, in addition to the one at Cayuga.

People in St. Paul were not happy.

In 1997 and 1998, Ellen Watters was head of the Midway Chamber of Commerce and part of negotiations involving the Snelling site. Now she's senior vice president of economic development for the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce.

"It was very frustrating," she said. "At the Midway Chamber, we definitely wouldn't have spent the time and energy on helping find them an alternative site … if we hadn't thought there was going to be the payoff of getting redevelopment at the Snelling site."

Copyright © 2005 Finance and Commerce. All rights reserved. A Dolan Media Publication.

TMO Advocates for Temporary Bus Shelter Adjacent to CVS Construction

The Midway TMO has been working toward getting Metro Transit to install a temporary bus shelter on the northwest corner of Snelling and University during construction of the new CVS store. The new building, when completed, will include an upgraded bus shelter. In the meantime, however, TMO staff had grown concerned that the hundreds of bus riders who wait for the bus each day at that location were getting rained on a regular basis. The initial response from Metro Transit was that there was no good place to put a temporary shelter. Eventually, Metro Transit came around to proposing a temporary shelter in front of the Turf Club. The temporary shelter is getting final approvals and should be installed by June 17.

Dickerman Park CIB Funding In Jeopardy
Posted May 31, 2005

The Parks Department requested $1.475 million for the renovation of Dickerman Park. The Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) Committee ranked Dickerman 25th out of 44 applications which apparently was not sufficiently high to get funding. We need lots of people to attend a public hearing on *Thursday, June 9th at 6:00 pm at City Hall (*please note the date correction) to speak in favor of the project. Our hope now is to convince the Mayor and City Council that this project should be funded. We will be putting together some background materials that will be helpful for those planning on speaking. Unfortunately, I will be out of the office next week and not able to attend, so please keep in touch with Russ, who will help coordinate our campaign. Please let us know if you are able to attend. Thanks, Brian

Wellington Goes for Another Lot Split at Lexington
Posted May 27, 2005

On May 20, 2005, Steve Wellington filed a request with the City to do a lot split on the "Key's portion" of the Lexington and University corner. This is 2 acre site just south of the recently demolished shopping center. Wellington recently acquired this from Key's Well Drilling. The property, extending from Lexington on the east to Dunlap Street on the west, currently has several commercial buildings and two houses. It was initially envisioned that this property would be added to the larger shopping center site to make one large development parcel. Wellington has created 3 separate lots on the northern portion of the site (Aldi's and TCF), and is now proposing to subdivide for 2 additional lots on the Keys portion. What started out as a development site of 8 acres has now been turned into 5 separate parcels - none of them large enough to create a critical mass for a significant project.

Wellington is proposing to sell the western portion of the newly divided Keys lot, abutting Dunlap Street, to Episcopal Homes. The remaining eastern frontage on Lexington consists of less than 1 acre. Because of its small size and configuration, it would appear that Wellington would envision chain store type retail.

Episcopal Homes is the owner/ developer of the senior housing project at Fairview and University. University UNITED honored this project when it was built, and recognize its historic impact as the first housing built on the corridor in perhaps 75 years. This is an outstanding project that has helped set the standard for all future development along the corridor. We are delighted that Episcopal Homes is exploring opportunities to build at other locations along the corridor. However, we have serious questions about yet another lot split at Lexington that will further erode the possibility of doing a comprehensive plan or project for this critical intersection.

More on this after the holiday.

Traffic Counts by New Menard's Store Double
Posted May 25, 2005

Traffic count comparison at Prior and University, before and after the new Menards opened:

"Prior North of Menards Driveways
Before 4,204
After 4,971

Prior South of Menards Driveways
Before 5,811
After 10,798

Charles east of Prior
Before 1,598
After 1,350

Detailed count information is available.

Light Rail and Land Use
Posted May 20, 2005

The federal government is expected to pay for half the tab of the $850 million Central Corridor light rail line. If the region is serious about this line, it is very important that local public officials heed the criteria used in ranking proposals.
At a meeting of the Central Corridor Coordinating Committee on May 19, there was a presentation spelling out the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) criteria.

In addition to transportation impacts, the FTA is clearly looking for land use and development that is supportive of light rail, including urban densities, mixed uses, pedestrian and transit friendly design, underground or structured parking, supportive zoning, and the like.

A review of recently approved projects on University Avenue in St. Paul shows that the City is coming up woefully short. On the northwest corner of Snelling and University, the busiest intersection in the state, a single-story, single-use building is under construction. This CVS drive-through pharmacy takes up only one third of the site, with the remainder used for surface parking.

In addition, the main entrance to the store is accessible only from the rear parking lot - the University Avenue frontage facing the transit stop lacks an entrance door or windows. Pretty much the same pattern is repeated at Lexington and University, with a single-use, single story Aldi's grocery store.

The City rationalizes these inappropriate developments by claiming that the private marketplace is dictating these projects. In St. Paul, we are being told that we have little ability to shape development patterns - the best we can do on the busiest intersection in the state is accept a single story suburban style drive-through building. Is this a reasonable position? We think not. In Minneapolis, for instance, CVS opted to build a multi-story mixed-use project with condominium housing atop its store. Why are the outcomes in these neighboring cities so different?

For years, University UNITED has been pushing for a transit-overlay district, or a zoning change that would encourage transit oriented development (TOD), as has been done by virtually every other city in the country considering light rail. Rather than embrace this approach, in St. Paul we have policies and practices in place that discourage the very kinds of development called for by the FTA. Several years ago, this city actively pushed a big-box Home Depot proposal at Lexington and University with huge public subsidies. More recently the city has taken actions which completely undercut the efforts of a planning study calling for TOD at Snelling and Lexington. It chose to leave the old B-3 zoning in place rather than opt for the new TN zoning which promotes TOD. This zoning/ planning conflict has been adroitly exploited by developers - exactly as we had predicted years ago. At that time we were told by the City that consideration of a transit-overlay district could not occur because, "We expect that some of the impacted property owners will oppose the proposal at this time because they believe that not all their current potential development opportunities will meet TOD guidelines." In effect, the city planning department has been shaping its policies around the financial interests of the current property owners, rather than the long term interests of the community. A city Planning Commissioner recently cited this zoning conflict as a rationale for supporting a TCF drive through bank at Lexington He stated that "the (Lexington TOD) plan intentionally left this property zoned B3, and the TOD principles should (only) apply if the market supports it." Comprehensive planning and zoning take a back seat in St. Paul.

This approach was also clearly evidenced by a recent Memorandum of Understanding between Steve Wellington and the city for the critical 8 acre site at Lexington and University.
The city supported his plan for creation of a TIF district, and a project that would include a single story grocery store and have "… at least one pad for a restaurant that includes fast food…", a land use which is the antithesis of TOD. This Memorandum was signed by the city without any prior community notification or process, and even before Wellington had acquired the site.

Our inability to get TOD at Snelling and Lexington is not because the development community is uninterested or unwilling - but rather because we have city policies in place that actively discourage it.
This is no longer just a local issue. As we are preparing our application to FTA for the Central Corridor line, the entire region needs to insure that we have a land use policy along University Avenue that supports transit.

Ford Building
Posted May 17, 2005

Last year, and earlier this year, the State Department of Administration sought funds to demolish the historic Ford Building at University and Rice. This effort was rebuffed in both the House and the Senate, and we presumed the issue was resolved. Our efforts then turned towards creating a community process that would work towards the long term preservation of the building. On May 16, rumors started to fly about the State taking another run at demolition, based upon the continued deterioration of the unoccupied structure. I spoke to Niki Giancola, of the Department of Administration on May 16, and was assured that the State is not currently seeking funds for demolition - apparently contradicting a request made to the Senate/ House State Government Finance Conference Committee just days earlier.

Earlier in the session, according to the Pioneer Press, the House State Government Finance Committee passed a bill that would require the Department of Administration to make an effort to lease the building to a private developer for condos, commercial use or whatever. The Finance Department responded that they can't comply with that because the building remodeling was financed with bonds that require that it be used for a public purpose. The conference committee will have to resolve the legal issues. Commissioner Badgerow said they will not demolish it because they didn't get the bonding money they requested to do so and wouldn't ask for an appropriation in the current budget climate.

University UNITED is supporting the preservation of the Ford Building (see link), as are the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Minnesota Preservation Alliance, and numerous community groups and individuals. The adjoining Christ Lutheran Church, at 105 West University Avenue, has taken a strong leadership role in this effort. In a letter dated May 16, 2005, Pastor Susan E. Tjornehoj wrote, "Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill has been part of this neighborhood since 1910. There was a local community surrounding the capitol at that time.
Over the years the State has removed much of the community to make more parking lots. In the process of building parking lots, part of both the history and soul of the community have been destroyed.
Many members of this community have a vision of a vibrant, multi-cultural active community in the area. We believe that the Ford Building can be part of the vision - whether housing, office, or retail. We can preserve the past while moving into the future."

Ford Building Legislative Language

The State Government Finance Report, Page R58, was amended to include the following:

"The Ford Building at 117 University Avenue in St. Paul may not be demolished during the biennium ending June 30, 2007. By January 15, 2006, the commissioner of administration, in conjunction with interested legislators, private sector real estate professionals, historic preservation specialists, and representatives of the city of St. Paul, neighboring property owners, and St. Paul neighborhood associations, must report to the legislature with recommendations regarding potential means of preserving and using the Ford Building. The report must include:

1.) availability of potential leases for the building;
2.) constraints on leasing the building, including the requirement to pay off any state general obligation bonds previously used in maintaining or rehabilitating the building; and
3.) the cost of restoring and rehabilitating the building and the feasibility of various means of paying these costs, including potential use of revenue bonds."

This amendment was approved by the House and is now in conference committee.

Posted May 19, 2005

Midway Sheraton Hotel

At the University UNITED Board meeting on May 16, a resolution was passed urging that the St. Paul Port Authority and the City Department of Planning and Economic Development make every effort to retain an operating hotel along the University Avenue corridor.

Troubled Midway hotel may be sold again

The Four Points by Sheraton Capitol hotel has lost money for a variety of owners over the years, including the St. Paul Port Authority.

By Bill Clements/F&C Feature Writer
May 12, 2005

The St. Paul Port Authority is collecting bids from potential buyers of the Four Points by Sheraton Capitol hotel in the Midway neighborhood.

SPPA spokesperson Tom Collins said the authority is analyzing the "three or four" bids that have come in so far, though he would not identify from whom or for how much.

A source said one of the bidders is Target Corp. and that it has offered $10 million for the property at 400 N. Hamline Ave. Neither Collins nor a Target spokesperson would confirm those details.

Target operates a store at 1300 University Ave., adjacent to the Four Points by Sheraton. That store has encountered stiff competition from the nearby Wal-Mart that opened last year in the former Kmart location in the Midway Marketplace shopping center.

Since then, Target has wanted to expand its presence in the area, and one idea is to replace the existing store with a Target Greatland. Acquiring the Sheraton property would give Target the room to expand, though that would mean taking the hotel down.

In an e-mail, Paula Thornton-Greear, spokesperson for Target Stores, wrote:

"Our Midway store is a very important part of our overall strategy for the market. However, it is too premature to speculate on any plans."
Collins emphasized that the Sheraton may not be sold at all if the price isn't right and that even if it is, it may remain an operating hotel. He added that the SPPA does not expect a deal to be finalized until - at the earliest - later in June.

The 14,000-square-foot, four-story hotel with 198 guest rooms has waged a mostly losing battle to make a profit since it was built in the late 1980s with SPPA-backed financing.

Several previous owner/operators of the hotel have defaulted on loans over the years, causing SPPA to repossess the property a couple times.

SPPA reacquired control of the hotel in February 2004 when the most recent owners - Grosvenor Properties Ltd., a San Francisco-based real estate company that focuses on hotels - defaulted on its loan.

By that time, Grosvenor had missed $237,000 in payments. Collins said SPPA has not been making debt payments because of the property's poor income performance. As of now, $8.7 million is outstanding on the Sheraton.

The construction of the hotel was originally financed in 1986 through a bond issue for $8.9 million from the SPPA's 876 Fund.

From February 1974 through May 1991, the SPPA issued $428.8 million in industrial and commercial revenue bonds that became known as the 876 Fund, according to a petition filed Sept. 7 in the 2nd District Court of Ramsey County seeking to restructure the way the troubled fund collects principal and interest payments on its outstanding bonds.

That $428.8 million in bonds was used to finance 139 real estate loans for properties located in and around St. Paul. The plan was that revenue from those projects would be used to pay back bondholders, but many of those property projects failed.

The properties span a broad range of development classifications, including: industrial (81), office (34), residential (5), hotel (6), parking ramp (5) and miscellaneous (8).

As of Dec. 1, the 876 Fund's reserves were depleted and the net revenues were no longer enough to make payments on the outstanding bonds, which financial experts had been forecasting for more than 10 years would happen.

SPPA administers the 876 Fund but is not liable for it in any way. Since 1996, SPPA has been authorized to use $100.3 million to buy back from bondholders and retire $123.7 million worth of 876 Fund bonds.

But SPPA's decision to sell the Sheraton has nothing to do with the 876 Fund's troubles, Collins said. "Our decision to sell is based on looking for the best deal for our bondholders."

"If and when" the hotel is sold, Collins said, the proceeds would go into the 876 Fund's general revenues. He added that SPPA has been working hard to maintain the hotel.

"We took it over and put in a new roof for $560,000 and high-speed Internet for $20,000," Collins said. "We continue to address the property improvement plan that Sheraton has for that property."

In recent years, SPPA has also acquired through repossession both downtown Radissons - the Radisson City Center, 411 Minnesota St., and the Radisson Riverfront, 11 E. Kellogg Blvd. - but neither of those hotels were financed with 876 Fund bonds.

"At some point in time, when we feel the market is right, we'll try to sell those properties as well," Collins said. "We want to get out of the hotel business."

One community leader in the Midway neighborhood would not want the Four Points Sheraton to close or to be torn down.

"I would be very opposed to losing the Sheraton," said Brian McMahon, head of the community development organization University United.

"I think it's a great asset, one that could be turned around. What we need to do is build up and improve the area around the hotel to make it a better place to operate."

This article is taken from Finance and Commerce and is posted with their permission. Their website is

Officials consider new option for Snelling Avenue Site

By Bill Clements/F&C Feature Writer
April 28, 2005

The long-running soap opera could be called "As the Snelling Garage Turns."

And now a new episode for the St. Paul drama might be in production.

But it's too soon to tell, according to the city of St. Paul and the Metropolitan Council, two of the main characters in this convoluted saga that also involves the federal government.

The Met Council owns the 9.5-acre expanse of prime property at Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94, where Metro Transit operated the Snelling Avenue Garage until it was demolished in the spring of 2002. The city has been wanting to develop that property for years.

What's happening is this: It's possible that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) may be in a position to waive restrictions that have helped prevent the Met Council from doing anything with the property.

The old bus barn was built in 1907 as a streetcar manufacturing shop by the Twin City Rapid Transit Co. All Twin Cities streetcars were built there until 1946; after that, the garage became a maintenance facility.

(The bus barn officially closed in September 2001 and was replaced by a new garage at Cayuga and the Mississippi River on St. Paul's East Side - the first new garage built in the Twin Cities in a decade.)

The Met Council holds that because federal money was used to build and maintain the site, it would want to recoup its investment "if we liquated that site and didn't reinvest it for transit purposes," said Steven Dornfeld, spokesman for the Met Council.

But that might not be the case, according to Brian McMahon, executive director of University United, a coalition of community-business groups that advocate for the sensible development of University Avenue.

McMahon points to Transit Cooperative Research Program Report 102 - entitled "Transit-Oriented Development [TOD] in the United States: Experiences, Challenges, and Prospects"-that was published in January 2004.

On page 2 of the long document's summary, the report reads: "Important recent federal initiatives have been the new joint development ruling (which enables transit agencies to sell land for TOD even if the land was purchased using federal dollars), new starts criteria, and various livable community initiatives."

The report highlights several private/public, mixed-use developments on land formerly used by federally funded transit operations like Metro Transit, including Atlanta's Lindbergh Station, a 1.3 million-square-foot development on a one-time parking lot.

The above-mentioned report says the 1997 Atlanta development came about "thanks in no small part to FTA's joint development policy ruling that enables land purchased using federal funds, including parking lots, to be leased to the private sector as long as the resulting development is transit supportive."

In an interview, McMahon said, "We want the feds to stipulate that they will waive whatever restrictions there are on this property.

"That could really free things up for developing that site. So let's get off the dime and get Sen. [Norm] Coleman involved and get this done."

Susan Kimberly, director of the department of planning and economic development for St. Paul, said it's not that easy. "There may be some flexibility there, there may not be. We don't know yet."

Dornfeld of the Met Council agreed. "There have been endless discussions with the city over this issue, so if there is some possibility [for progress], it will be examined.

"But we do have a fiduciary responsibility here. If we can be fiscally responsible and still be a good neighbor and help St. Paul develop this site, we will. But in the next 25 years, we have to double the number of bus garages we have."

The Met Council is looking at alternate garage sites, Dornfeld said, including one on Hampden Avenue that has angered several developers working on residential developments in the area.

"We do need a new bus garage in the East Metro," Dornfeld added, "that's assuming the East Metro wants bus service."

This article is taken from Finance and Commerce and is posted with their permission. Their website is

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