Developers pump $2.5 billion into Green Line corridor

Metropolitan Council Member Harry Melander
Metropolitan Council Member Harry Melander, president of the St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council, tells reporters Wednesday about the jobs created by development along the new Green Line light-rail system. Beside him is Met Council Chair Sue Haigh and Marvin Plakut, CEO of Episcopal Homes.
Laura Yuen/MPR News

Developers are pumping an estimated $2.5 billion in private and public money into the areas along the new Green Line light-rail system, the Metropolitan Council announced Wednesday.

More than half of the projects involve some kind of housing, ranging from student rentals to luxury high-rises.

Among the new-urbanites eager to live close to light rail are senior citizens. That's led Episcopal Homes to add 168 units to its main campus at Fairview and University avenues, on St. Paul's western edge. The new development is nearly fully leased, even though it won't open for another six months, CEO Marvin Plakut said.

"The majority of residents wanting to get on our wait list at this time, they're saying they want to do so because light rail is stopping just a few feet from our front door," Plakut said. "We feel we couldn't be luckier to have this location where we've been for over a century."

The Met Council, which is building the line, is keeping track of 121 projects planned, under construction, or already built. Council staff compiled the list from news stories and building permits, among other sources. They say the investment far exceeds the amount of development along the Hiawatha Corridor, or the Blue Line, which runs from downtown Minneapolis to the airport and Mall of America.

•Related: 11 miles in 67 minutes? Met Council's Green Line engineers look to shave time

While some projects on the Green Line list may never get built, council chairwoman Sue Haigh said the $2.5-billion estimate is conservative. It doesn't include the price tags of projects where the developers have yet to disclose their investment figures.

"We expect that this is just the beginning of the development," Haigh said. "We'll continue to see more development as we open that line and there's more interest in the development opportunities along it."

Many of the projects are clustered in the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In what will come as no surprise to anyone, the biggest investment of all is a $400 million mixed-use project that just broke ground near the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

But there are smaller bricks-and-mortar jobs peppered into the mix.

Omar Ansari, founder of the Surly Brewing Company, said it was essential for him to locate his 20 million destination brewery near transit, particularly light-rail. He envisions a day when beer enthusiasts from Elk River will hop onto the North Star commuter rail, then catch the Green Line to his brewery a few blocks from University Avenue. Same goes for out-of-towners who choose to ride the rails from the airport to Surly to quench their thirst.

"It's great for us because people will happen to have a beer when they come out to our place," Ansari said. "We want to give people as many ways to get home as they can without driving."

He's not alone in that desire. Surly is one of four breweries that have announced plans to set up shop or redevelop within a half-mile of the Green Line. Ansari said that concentration will turn the Central Corridor into a convenient craft-beer circuit.

"You can take the light-rail from brewery to brewery, or Nice Ride it, take your bike, or walk," he said. "The density of breweries is a great thing for a town's beer scene."

While Ansari is focused on hops, Gretchen Nicholls, a program officer for Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation, is keen on housing -- particularly affordable housing that can keep low-income families in the corridor.

While some critics have complained that the area has become oversaturated with affordable housing, Nicholls said that's not the case.

A report released this week by a coalition of groups, including LISC, found that just 7 percent of all new units in the corridor are considered affordable.

"There's already low-income people here," Nicholls said. " The question is: Do we want all those people to leave here and go somewhere else? What I think is good is we're having a healthy debate about it."

Meanwhile, projects across Minneapolis and St. Paul forge ahead. Tomorrow, a new Lunds grocery in downtown St. Paul opens, two blocks from the light-rail tracks.

This map shows construction projects of more than $15 million, either planned, underway, or completed, along the Green Line light rail line in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Disclosure: Minnesota Public Radio and the Metropolitan Council are negotiating ways to reduce noise and vibrations from the newly built light rail line outside MPR headquarters under a contract agreed to in 2009.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.