Foundations taking interest in light-rail development

Local and national foundations are taking an interest in development along the Central Corridor light-rail transit lin e, which will run along University and Washington avenues . Seven local and three national foundations recently helped set up the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative and Learning Network , which will work with businesses and communities along the Central Corridor to combat rent hikes and other possible issues that could arise. This includes Stadium Village and businesses and communities along University Avenue. Construction on the line, which will connect downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul via University Avenue, is scheduled to begin in 2010 and finish by 2014. Jonathan Sage-Martinson , who was hired on in June as coordinator, is the first and only current employee of the Learning Network . He said it is unique that the collaborative has formed four years before the line is set to start running. âÄúWe are really in a discovery stage,âÄù Sage-Martinson said. âÄúBut you canâÄôt start too early on something like this.âÄù The mission of the collaborative is to unlock the benefits of the light-rail line while assuring the lower income neighborhoods and businesses along the line see these benefits, Sage-Martinson said. The collaborative intends to do this in two ways, he said. First, it would create a learning network between funders and communities along the corridor to provide information so businesses can make informed decisions. Second, it would establish partnerships within communities of businesses, non-profits and other interested parties to implement solutions to problems that could arise with small businesses and affordable housing. To do this, the Learning Network has created a catalyst fund to pay for their activities. The collaborative seeks to raise $20 million for the project’s 10-year timeframe. They have already raised $5 million, Sage-Martinson said. The foundations involved include the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation and the St. Paul Foundation. Dan Bartholomay, program manager for the McKnight Foundation, said the idea for the collaboration began more than a year ago when he began researching the affects of light-rail lines being built in other parts of the country. âÄúI realized that the investment of the light rail was going to have an impact, both positive and negative, for new arrivals and existing residents,âÄù he said. Businesses along the corridor will notice a negative impact during construction of the light-rail line , Bartholomay said. âÄúWe know that there is going to be issues with access to businesses during construction,âÄù he said. âÄúBut we also know that businesses are going to have a different market once the construction is done.âÄù Bartholomay said he hopes that the collaborative will be able to help businesses during construction but also to take advantage of the new markets created by the line. Edward Goetz, professor at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, is the director of a study on the Hiawatha line and its impact on residential property values, land use and investments in housing stock. In other U.S. cities where light-rail lines have been built, Goetz found that property values increased within a half-mile of the line. However, he also found that property values decreased at locations near the line, but not near a station. However, the University may be impacted differently, he said. âÄúUniversity is already a well developed corridor with a lot of activity centers and attractions,âÄù he said, adding that he did not feel the addition of the light-rail line would have a major impact. Despite these findings, the Learning Network is not the only group interested in protecting businesses along the Central Corridor. The Neighborhood Development Center, a community-based non-profit, also plans to work with the low-income businesses and communities along University Avenue. Mike LaFave, director at NDC, said they plan to support these businesses by providing workshops, training, one-on-one technical assistance and financial assistance in the form of loans. âÄúWe think that there are a lot of great businesses that are an asset to the community,âÄù he said. âÄúIf we start working early, they are well positioned to withstand the construction period and exist when it is over.âÄù