University Avenue business owners meet to discuss light rail concerns

Alexandra Heu
Alexandra Heu affixes a new sign to an archway in the Saigon restaurant on University Avenue in St. Paul. The signs are part of a campaign calling for mitigation money for small businesses on the avenue. The proposed Central Corridor light-rail project could begin construction as early as next year, with trains rolling by 2014.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

A group of business owners met today at a University Avenue restaurant to discuss the effects of the Central Corridor light-rail project, and they say their voices aren't being heard.

Saigon restaurant owner Lysa Bui says says her business and many others won't be able to survive the four-year construction project.

"We're not asking for money for a new building. We're not asking for money to buy a new table, new chair. We're not asking you guys -- Met Council -- for money to buy new inventory. We're just asking to be compensated for what we will lose during and after construction."

Met Council officials say they've talked with University Avenue business owners several times. But project planners say there's no money available in the budget to compensate businesses that may lose customers during the construction.

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"There's absolutely no money in the project budget for handouts, or to give people money," said Central Corridor spokeswoman Laura Baenen. "We're not doing it."

However, Baenen said the project is paying for what she calls "construction mitigation," including new signage and efforts to maintain access to affected businesses. Baenen said she did not know how much those efforts would cost. The project office has hired a number of bilingual staff to work with business owners over the past two years.

In addition, the project is partnering with three groups that offer free business-consulting services, such as retail management and marketing to help businesses cope with construction, Baenen said.

Project planners say the construction will take place in phases over four years. A detailed schedule won't be developed until next year.

The $928 million, 11-mile project could receive permission this fall from the federal government to enter final design. Major construction could begin next year, with trains rolling by 2014.