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Northside developers, business leaders see “once in a lifetime” community opportunities with METRO Blue Line Extension

The coming year will be pivotal in preparing for the new METRO Blue Line Extension.

 

The plans are creating excitement for some Northside community leaders and key developers who are thinking big and regarding the line as a “once-in-our lifetime asset that we can build on,” in the words of Anthony Taylor, managing partner of RiverNorth.

 

As 2024 arrived, Taylor, along with Brett Buckner, managing director of OneMn, philanthropist and activist Anika Robbins and Reva Chamblis, vice chair of the Metropolitan Council, gathered to brainstorm ways to share their vision of community prosperity that will accompany the arrival of the recommended rail route.

 

“This is our grand opportunity. This development plan will bring vitality to the area and will ignite quality-of-life improvements that have passed us by,” Taylor said. “Transportation-oriented development allows us to reimagine how this community can build out and develop — without disrupting where people live.”

 

When the 13 miles of new track are completed and the train starts running in 2030, the METRO Blue Line Extension will add light rail service from Target Field to North Minneapolis, then on to Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park. The massive project will arrive with an estimated price tag of well over a billion dollars.

 

“This is a stimulus project. This money is coming to our community at this moment in time. A project of this scope won’t come our way again so we have to build for our kids, hustle our best plan and then hold our partners in the government accountable to deliver,” said Buckner, who serves on the Met Council’s Community Advisory Committee.

 

A first-of-a-kind Anti-Displacement Working Group met for 18 months to contemplate design options and offer recommendations. The group’s focus was limiting disruptions and making sure that BIPOC, immigrant and low-wealth communities would be positioned to benefit from the corridor’s economic development. The 26-member group included residents and business owners from the area.

 

“The community has a voice in the project; things are not being done to them. We have to build trust and ask people to see a vision for the future when there hasn’t been one previously. Their ideas have been thwarted so there’s fear and apprehension,” said Anika Robbins, CEO and founder of the ANIKA Foundation.

 

Although the first riders won’t board the new light rail trains for six years, the developers note that the recommended route must be approved by the cities it will serve coming up in 2024.

 

They hear some community objections to the recommended route, call them understandable.

 

“Highway 94 broke up and disconnected communities and they’ve been historically disadvantaged and isolated,” acknowledged Reba Chamblis. “This time it’s different. We need to reflect the true voice of the community. The plan needs to be set in place now.”

 

Chamblis emphasized that while the recommended route would take some homes and businesses, it’s still too early in the design phase to identify the exact number that would go. But she offered assurances that those impacted would be “made whole,” compensated for any losses.

 

That pledge will also apply to local small businesses that can expect a downturn in customer traffic during construction.

 

“Assume some businesses will be disrupted by 30, 60, 80 percent, or a business will have to temporarily shut down. They have been involved in the process. We asked, based on your revenue, what will that cost? We can get that money put in their hands,” said Buckner.

 

Developer Taylor noted that there can be specific outcomes built into the final plan that will enhance the scope of the project to bring a range of long term community benefits.

 

“Major parcels of land will go into development and bring hundreds of residents; that will improve and increase jobs, public safety, our health care, our schools. It will bring more customers to our businesses,” said Taylor. 

 

“We can ask for things that benefit the community. We can say, for every home that is taken, we want ten new homes. What if that means 100 new homes, at $300 thousand each? That’s a $30 million value and it’s possible,” he added.

 

While there are voices raised in opposition, each of the leaders recognized the large number of residents who support the project, but in a less vocal way.

 

“The loud are not the representative. The significant silent majority who need enhanced transportation the most believe they don’t have a voice in this, but we hear them,” said Buckner. “We want them to know, they’re in this vision. Their needs will not be bypassed as the pieces come together.”

 


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