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Community, cultural groups influence development of METRO Blue Line Extension

Seventeen local community and cultural organizations are being tapped by Hennepin County as part of the design and planning for the new METRO Blue Line Extension.


The recommended route for the METRO Blue Line Extension will lay 13 miles of new track from Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, then travel through North Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Crystal and end in Brooklyn Park.


As part of the process, Hennepin County has contracted with organizations that serve the corridor to make sure that voices influencing project decisions represent the diversity of the corridor.


Some of the organizations that have participated in the community engagement cohort include A Mother's Love, Encouraging Leaders, Juxtaposition Arts, the Northside Economic Opportunity Network, the West Broadway Coalition, the Lao Assistance Center of MN, Pueblos de Lucha y Esperanza and the Liberian Business Association.


“We are contributing. We’ve given our input and our businesses know what’s coming. We can be part of the development so our businesses will grow, accelerate and benefit with this opportunity,” said Jackson George, executive director of the Liberian Business Association (LiBA).


Established in 2007, the LiBA is a network of some 260 small and micro-businesses, with two-thirds of them based in Brooklyn Park. George said the  majority of the owners of the businesses have become enthusiastic about the potential of the METRO Blue Line Extension.


George has used his position to have influence on the planning by serving on a first-of-a-kind Anti-Displacement Working Group. The 26-member group, which included corridor residents and business owners, met for 18 months and made recommendations on how to minimize dislocation during construction.


“We can make informed decisions because we have been at the table. There will be some displacement coming but we can make a plan when it happens so businesses don’t fail. This may give some of our businesses along the line the opportunity to own commercial property in the corridor instead of renting,” George said.


Construction of the METRO Blue Line Extension is still a few years away and riders won’t board new light rail trains until some time in 2030. But the grassroots groups have already spent years working with project staff.


“We are doing something innovative and engaging the community in new and different ways. They are very important stakeholders for the line,” said Kyle Mianulli, communications administrator with Hennepin County Transit and Mobility. “This is a 100 year investment so we are not only hearing from people who will be using light rail now; we are considering future generations as we build this.”


“Transportation projects don’t just connect suburbs and downtown. We don’t want this to just run through our neighborhoods. We want to make sure our communities are the direct beneficiaries of this public investment. We want to tap into abundance, to thrive and develop wealth,” said Ricardo Perez, an organizer for the Blue Line Coalition.


The Coalition’s focus is to limit disruptions and make sure that traditionally overlooked citizens from BIPOC, immigrant and low-wealth communities are positioned to benefit from the corridor’s economic development.


Perez notes that the recommended route was moved or adjusted in several spots in response to concerns raised by the community. But he understands why some people remain wary about the scope of the major infrastructure development planned for their neighborhoods.


“The project is moving in areas that have been oppressed communities of color.

They wonder how can they trust official efforts,” Perez said.


Perez and other community advocates will be watching the details as the final plan emerges.


“Community concerns are very real. But there are opportunities to showcase how we can do it differently, do it better, and have different outcomes. There needs to be  more resources invested in sharing with the community how they will be taken care of before, during and after construction,” Perez said.


As for Jackson George, he and his fellow Liberian business owners are eager to see what a likely multi-billion dollar development might do for them.


“Will this all be easy? No,” he admitted. “But I am optimistic.”




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