Central Corridor undergoing redevelopment, but at what cost?

Public funds are being used both to spur development and keep beleaguered businesses afloat.
Public funds are being used both to spur development and keep beleaguered businesses afloat.

Two years before its scheduled opening, the area along the Met Council's $957 million Central Corridor project is already undergoing redevelopment  -- but is it a case of government throwing good money after bad?

In a news release issued late last month, the council notes that almost 40 commercial and housing developments are under construction or planned for construction along the rail line, which stretches from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul along Washington and University avenues. More than 5,100 housing units have already been completed.

But as MinnPost's Steven Dornfield points out:

Many of the projects, particularly in the two downtowns and the University of Minnesota area, were underway before LRT or would have gone forward even in the absence of the rail line. For example, the news release includes the 12-year-long project that led to the creation of the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis.

Furthermore, two major downtown St. Paul residential projects now moving forward only progressed because the city took over after private developers pulled out.

That's not to say the city's involvement won't ultimately be a beneficial thing for St. Paul residents, but, as former state Rep and president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota Phil Krinkie told MinnPost, it sure would be nice to see more private development occur.

Development notwithstanding, existing businesses along the under-construction rail line continue to struggle to stay alive. Construction means chewed-up roadways, congestion, and little-to-no on-street parking.

To help impacted businesses stay afloat until 2014, the Met Council recently announced that it plans to spend $1.2 million on a marketing campaign enticing shoppers to visit the beleaguered area.

But the Star Tribune reports that "the campaign has drawn criticism from some who see it as an odd expenditure at a time when [the Met Council] has complained of budget shortfalls and raised property taxes."

$957 million for the rail line... numerous instances of city and Met Council subsidies used to spur development projects... now, another $1.2 million in public funds for a marketing campaign. Sure, the Central Corridor will be a great community asset when it's up and running, but are we sure that a less costly and disruptive investment in bus rapid transit wouldn't have been preferable?

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