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Riverview Corridor Vote Comes up in December

Note: This is our idea of what the train will look like, not the city’s.

A proposed modern streetcar that would travel through downtown St. Paul, down West Seventh Street and to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, is gaining steam as the Riverview Corridor’s locally preferred alternative. The transit project’s Policy Advisory Committee voted 9-3 October 12 to give preliminary support to the route and mode. 

That recommendation goes to a public hearing and open house and hearing at 5 p.m. Wednesday, November 9, at Highland Park Senior High School in St. Paul. A final committee vote is slated for December 14. The recommendation then goes to St. Paul, Minneapolis, Bloomington, Ramsey and Hennepin counties for action.

Before you sell your car, note that the transit project is several years from construction. Riverview isn’t likely to open for riders before 2027, although the City of Bloomington’s bid for a World’s Fair-type event could push that schedule up. It’s possible that the transit alternative could change in route and mode during the upcoming years of study. But many members of the West Seventh Street hospitality community, from Seven Corners to the southwest, have concerns.

Pat Mancini, owner of Mancini’s Char House on West Seventh Street, was one of three votes against the locally preferred alternative. Mancini and other restaurant owners worry that they could lose valuable on-street parking, as well as parking lot and valet parking access, if streetcar tracks are installed on the street. Many businesses also fear losing sidewalk space.

“It’s really a worry for us,” Mancini said after the vote. He is serving as the West Seventh neighborhood business representative on the policy committee. “We don’t know what it’s going to mean for our businesses and for the street as a whole.”

 “Businesses don’t know what is going to happen,” said former Ward Two Council Member Dave Thune. “They’re worried that we’ll have another University Avenue. Many businesses lost parking there.” He said the project will destroy the thriving hospitality community and what is unique about West Seventh and Seven Corners. His successor, Rebecca Noecker, also voted against the locally preferred alternative through her council aide.

When the Green Line light rail was being planned along University Avenue, then-Mayor Randy Kelly told businesses they would not lose on-street parking. But that was not the case as almost all of the on-street parking went away during construction. The City of St. Paul worked to help businesses find off-street parking. Some evening on-street parking was restored after rail began operations three years ago.

The Minnesota Wild, which supports the modern streetcar and the West Seventh route, had met with the hospitality businesses to discuss issues. But Thune and Mancini said the business group isn’t moved and doesn’t see a benefit in having rail. Mancini has also expressed skepticism as to whether modern streetcars will indeed gain enough traction to be funded by the federal government.

The project’s total price tag is estimated at $1.2 billion.

The West Seventh Business Association has called for arterial bus improvements, and has opposed any transit mode that would put rails in the street. The St. Paul Chamber of Commerce is supporting a modern streetcar. Chamber representative John Regal irked some small business owners present when he pointed out that the 1,200 chamber members have waited for a long time for a decision. A previous Riverview bus transit project was curbed by then-Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Other hospitality business owners have also expressed opposition. Several said they felt rail transit was a done deal. At one meeting, David Cossetta of Cossetta’s Aliamentari sighed and said, “I should have been a farmer.” 

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