Opposition builds to Met Council’s next light rail line in North Minneapolis

The Met Council claims to be all about equity and inclusion in the grandstanding statements on the agency’s “Equity in Action” page posted on its website.

Our public engagement plan plan establishes principles and processes to engage people in our decision-making processes, and ensure that Met Council decisions reflect the needs of community stakeholders.

Reality fails to match the rhetoric, however, for many north Minneapolis residents and businesses caught in the middle of the Met Council’s latest hare-brained scheme to bulldoze another light rail line through a Twin Cities neighborhood. The agency notes the Blue Line Extension from Target Field along West Broadway Avenue to Crystal and Robbinsdale will serve “some of the most racially and economically diverse communities in Hennepin County, and will connect people to jobs and opportunities along the line.”

But business owners recently told the Star Tribune they increasingly want nothing to do with the potential economic train wreck headed their way.

Some north Minneapolis business owners in the W. Broadway corridor, the area’s cultural and commercial heart, say they’re feeling increasingly uneasy as plans pick up for the Blue Line extension light-rail project to cut through the diverse district.

“It feels to me like another version of Rondo — what was told to Rondo residents in terms of what was happening with I-94 and ultimately what was done, with the displacement of residents everywhere,” Cynthia Wilson of the Minneapolis NAACP said at a recent Blue Line advisory committee meeting.

“We’re for the light rail, but just not in our area. When people say they don’t want it, you don’t force-feed it to us.”

Met Council planners will not finalize the route until next year, after holding more than 300 meetings to engage with the public. But from the sound of the business owners the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder surveyed, no amount of meetings will change the minds of many reluctant to get on board.

Some of the concerns include parking removal, as well as how traffic and buses would be affected. They’re also worried about changes to buildings to accommodate street widening for the light rail, and concerns about how businesses, many of which are BIPOC-owned, would be affected during and after construction.

“I think the light rail will destroy the commercial corridor, the only commercial corridor that we have in North Minneapolis that has viable potential,” said Dean Rose, who owns the Broadway Liquor Outlet, as well as the building with 103 affordable housing units above it, on the northwest corner of West Broadway and Penn. 

The Blue Line Extension also threatens to obliterate years of work by businesses and community members to create a shopping area that’s both appealing and accessible.

Business owners like Rose are concerned about how the light rail would affect buildings along the West Broadway corridor. As part of the 2007 West Broadway Alive plan, Rose worked to develop guidelines that require new buildings to build up to the sidewalk, as opposed to having off-street parking in front. 

“We have been looking and developing West Broadway,” said Rose. “That [planning] allows for interaction of customers and pedestrians and community members to engage in commerce in a comfortable way that is accessible to bikes, pedestrians, autos and buses,” he adds. “When you make this shift to putting light rail down West Broadway,” he continues, “it flies in the face of all the development principles that we’ve been investing in for decades.” 

Moreover, some residents charge the proposed light rail route could actually decrease the accessibility of customers to the area.

People may have a harder time getting to West Broadway businesses by light rail because the Met Council is proposing up to three stops on West Broadway, which is less than the nine and a half bus stops that exist today. Depending on the alternative, trains may either stop at Illion/James and Aldrich/Bryant or just at Emerson. Both alternatives call for the light rail to also stop at Penn. 

“The train is gonna go right past all these other businesses,” said Wilson. “I just don’t see how it’s going to truly benefit the people here. What about us that have businesses here? It’s gonna be more of a negative impact for us versus having people to … not have to drive any longer.”

The Met Council’s bumbling development of the Southwest Light Rail Transit line only further undermines local confidence in the agency’s plans. But that hasn’t stopped the agency from already spending more than $140 million in local tax funds on Met Council chair Charlie Zelle’s latest folly.