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Central Corridor: Sons of Rondo on opposite sides

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Bell, Khaliq, Carter III
Left to right: Peter Bell, Chairman of the Metropolitan Council; Nathaniel Khaliq, president of the St. Paul chapter of the NAACP; Melvin Carter III, St. Paul City Council member. All three have family connections to the Rondo neighborhood, but they differ on whether they support the Central Corridor light-rail project.
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A coalition of African-American businesses and residents in St. Paul's historic Rondo community has filed a lawsuit challenging plans to build a light-rail transit system along University Avenue. 

Their mistrust is rooted in history: The last large-scale transportation project to charge through their neighborhood -- the construction of Interstate 94, in the 1950s and '60s -- displaced 650 families and split the heart of the city's black community in half.  

But not everyone whose families lost their houses to the freeway project is fighting light rail. Here are three men who have emerged in the Central Corridor debate, and whose own lives have been touched by Rondo.

 

PETER BELL

Age: 58

Position: Chairman of the Metropolitan Council; appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Political party: Republican

Memory of Rondo: Bell was 6 years old when the government took his family's home. He remembers having to clean his room before the appraiser came. Bell remembers the move as unsettling, but mostly because he had to part ways from his best friend who lived in the neighborhood.

On comparing light-rail to I-94: "My house was taken when (Interstate) 94 came through and put a quarter-mile trench in the middle of the community. I think it's an overstatement to say this is analogous situation, to run a train down University Ave."

On the Central Corridor project: "Its power to revitalize that corridor is beyond serious debate. The people who question that, I say, 'OK, what's your answer to revitalizing University Avenue?' Not enough people are saying, 'If not that, what?'"

 

  NATHANIEL KHALIQ

Age: 66

Position: President of the St. Paul branch of the NAACP

Memory of Rondo: Khaliq's grandfather, the Rev. George Davis, refused to move out of his house on old Rondo Ave. until authorities forcibly removed him in 1956. Khaliq, as a 13-year-old boy, watched police officers destroy the house with axes and sledgehammers.

Why he doesn't trust light rail: "We've heard these promises before. We're not saying we're opposed to it. We're just saying, 'Show us the benefits, short term and long term,' and they haven't been able to do it."

On Central Corridor: "Many folks perceive this project as a project of convenience --- that someone can get onto the Northstar [commuter rail] train in Big Lake, Minn., and ride it all the way to downtown St. Paul and go to a Wild hockey game. That's great. But as it's coming through our community, there should also be some benefits, and safeguards from irreparable harm."

 

  MELVIN CARTER III

Age: 31

Position: St. Paul City Council member, Ward 1

Political party: DFL

Experience with Rondo: Carter wasn't alive when I-94 plowed through Rondo. But his father, who lost his childhood home to the freeway project, would often tell his children on car trips along the interstate: "You're in my bedroom -- now!"

On comparing light-rail to I-94: "Instead of trying to reject light rail because of I-94, I think it would be wise for us to identify the full set of challenges light rail would bring, and the full set of opportunities. It needs to be weighed on its own merits."

On Central Corridor: Carter supports light rail, but wants to make sure longtime residents and businesses are first in line for jobs, educational opportunities and other resources generated from the project. He says the city of St. Paul is ready for the task of crafting affordable housing strategies, parking solutions, and plans to retain small businesses.