Stadium Village LRT work roils area businesses

Many business owners are dissatisfied with the Met Council’s light rail construction planning.

Jennifer Bissell

With any construction project comes dirt, noise, slow traffic and reduced parking.
And as Central Corridor light-rail construction is scheduled to begin in May, Stadium Village businesses are disappointed with the Metropolitan CouncilâÄôs efforts at mitigation.
Businesses claim the group, which is leading the project, has been unwilling to discuss staging construction to avoid interfering with businesses, said Chris Ferguson, the Stadium Village Commercial Association representative for light-rail talks. Council members havenâÄôt met requests for better signage directing pedestrians to business districts or bigger loan options for those heavily impacted.
âÄúItâÄôs just not something they care about,âÄù Ferguson said. âÄú[The Met CouncilâÄôs] priority is to get it the construction done on time and on budget, and if businesses go bankrupt as a result of that, thatâÄôs just a cost of the project that business owners have to bear.âÄù
Both the Met CouncilâÄôs Stadium Village liaison and spokeswoman Laura Baenen declined to comment as theyâÄôre seeking public feedback this month, Baenen said.
âÄúI donâÄôt think weâÄôre crying wolf,âÄù SVCA President Nancy Rose Pribyl said. âÄúI think thereâÄôs a sincere concern about how to help folks out and ensure they survive this.âÄù
According to a Met Council impact study, light-rail construction should only affect business revenues by between 0 and 2.5 percent during the four-year construction process. But with the study lumping together all business types, some believe the forecast is inaccurate.
Ferguson, who owns the Washington Avenue Dairy Queen, said while business offices without a steady stream of customers may not feel the effects of construction, other studies of projects that are similar to the Central Corridor, like one in Seattle, have shown local businesses that are dependent on foot traffic could see a 40 to 50 percent loss in revenue.
Ferguson said the Met CouncilâÄôs study is just one of many ways the Council has âÄúdropped the ballâÄù when it comes to mitigating construction impacts on businesses.
âÄúThe facts donâÄôt line up with their rhetoric,âÄù he said of the Met Council. The effects of construction on businesses in St. Paul have already been much greater than expected, Ferguson said.
Currently the Met Council is planning to offer $10,000 low-interest loans for businesses to stay operational during construction, but with the loans not yet available, itâÄôs difficult to tell how easy it will be for businesses to get them or if the amount will be adequate.
Ferguson said he doesnâÄôt believe $10,000 will be enough for some of the larger local businesses like SallyâÄôs Saloon and Eatery or Stub & Herbs that operate with larger cash flows. It would be reasonable for those businesses to need loans of up to $200,000 to ensure stability, he said.
Raising CaneâÄôs owner Kerry Kramp Jr. said his biggest concern with construction is keeping the sidewalks open and finding adequate parking since access to Washington Avenue will be completely cut off.
With the recent light-rail-related construction in front of Stub & Herbs, Kramp said he could already see that the construction was changing pedestriansâÄô walking habits.
If pedestrians continue to be able to only cross on one side of the road, it could do a lot of harm for other businesses, Kramp said.
âÄúLuckily weâÄôre a destination, but weâÄôre going to lose foot traffic,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôm a growing company, and I canâÄôt afford to lose that traffic.âÄù
Pribyl said she was worried about the potential safety risks construction would pose for pedestrians in the area, like open pits and poor lighting at night.
âÄúI donâÄôt think folks have grasped how different life is here on campus,âÄù Pribyl said, noting thereâÄôs a rush every time a class gets out during the day.
âÄú[In a suburb] youâÄôre not going to have the same activity as you have when youâÄôre housing a dense population of 18- to 24-year-olds,âÄù Pribyl said, âÄúwhether itâÄôs people who have been drinking, people who are texting or people walking with an iPod in their ears.âÄù
Pribyl said itâÄôs important to avoid another pedestrian death like the former student who died in October near construction in Dinkytown. The woman was hit by a car on Fourth Street Southeast as she walked in the street to avoid sidewalk construction.
To help businesses stay afloat, many companies have banded together to create the website Central Corridor Perks.
The site offers discounts to more than 50 businesses along the future light-rail line in an attempt to make the area more attractive during construction.
âÄúThe message we want to get out is we need the help of the community around us in the area for a long time,âÄù Ferguson said.
With the University of Minnesota and a hospital in the area, Ferguson said he believes Stadium Village may be able to keep its revenue decreases between 20 and 25 percent. But he said it wonâÄôt be possible without the communityâÄôs help.
âÄúThat is the No. 1 thing we need, is for them to shop.âÄù