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Regionalism : Development News

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$750,000 goes to Irrigate project to foster artistic place-making along the Central Corridor

The Central Corridor light rail line is the inspiration for an extensive, three-year creative placemaking initiative called Irrigate.

The project, which is a partnership between Springboard for the Arts, TC LISC, and the city of St. Paul, recently received a $750,000 grant from a newly formed consortium of arts funders called ArtPlace.

ArtPlace, which brings together public and private groups, is investing $11.5 million in 34 creative placemaking projects all over the country, according to Irrigate information.

As promoters of the first project of this type, ArtPlace "aims to drive revitalization across the country by putting the arts at the center of economic development," a prepared statement reads.

For Irrigate, local artists will be trained in creative placemaking, according to Springboard executive director Laura Zabel.

From there, Irrigate will be "mobilizing and activating hundreds of artist-led projects in partnership with businesses and neighborhood groups," she says.

In general, the projects should address some issue or opportunity along the corridor, she says.

Zabel says that the idea is to "embed artists in economic and community development for the benefits they can provide to the community."

Conversely, the project "increases the community's [valuation] of its artists."

She's expecting a huge variety of projects in the areas of creative marketing and mapping.

They could help people find their way during construction or speak to a neighborhood's character. "We really see the Central Corridor and construction as an opportunity to engage artists in a really deep way," she says.

"We think it's an opportunity to demonstrate that artists are well-suited to help in moments of huge infrastructure [change]. They're creative and they think in new ways. They're intuitive, they're entrepreneurs, and they understand the challenges of small business owners."

Source: Laura Zabel, executive director, Springboard for the Arts
Writer: Anna Pratt

Bike summit sheds light on plans, hopes for biking trails in Northeast Minneapolis

Plans for bike-ability on the east side of Minneapolis are coming together in 'bits and pieces,' says Michael Rainville, a bike enthusiast who lives in the St. Anthony West neighborhood.

He helped organize the recent Eastside Bike Summit, which drew nearly 80 people to the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis.

Getting bike trails on this part of the city is tough because so many different levels of government have to sign off on things, he says.

But Rainville is hopeful about the area's future bike-friendliness.

The 5th Street/2nd Avenue Northeast bike boulevard is a highly anticipated project that Rainville estimates will be completed within the next couple of months. 

"It's been talked about for years," he says, adding that with several traffic circles and a stoplight, "it'll be a nice safe place for people to ride their bikes going south through the east side of town," all the way to Columbia Heights.

Also, a bike lane is slated for Main Street and Marshall Avenue Northeast, from 1st Avenue Northeast to Broadway, though the segment that would go to Lowry is on hold.

Also proposed are bike lanes for Central and 37th avenues Northeast to the Mississippi River and on 18th Avenue Northeast from Monroe Street Northeast to the Quarry Shopping Center.

To help bicyclists safely cross the busy East Hennepin and 1st avenues northeast, which are part of a city streetcar study, a meeting-goer suggested that a bike lane go on the bridges and continue down the street. "All it would take is a couple gallons of paint," Rainville says.    

It's a good example of "the purpose of these summits, to get new creative ideas and talk about them out loud," he adds.

Rainville hopes that another bike summit will happen this winter. "Passion is all spread out. It's coming from all over the east side," he says.

Source: Michael Rainville, Eastside Bike Summit organizer
Writer: Anna Pratt

Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative moves forward with community engagement phase

At an August 4 community meeting at Farview Park Recreation Center in Minneapolis, people got a chance to learn more about the RiverFirst proposal for redeveloping a 5.5-mile stretch of the Mississippi River. It starts at the Stone Arch Bridge and goes north. 

The meeting focused on benefits for the city's North and Northeast areas, which are largely cut off from the river, along with the idea of "problem-solving" parks that would be destinations, according to a prepared statement about the event.

It's part of a broadly based community engagement effort to gather feedback about the RiverFirst proposal--under the umbrella of the Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative--for re-imagining this portion of the riverfront. The TLS/KVA team of landscape architects and designers won a design competition earlier this year to bring its proposal to fruition.

RiverFirst is a multifaceted plan for revitalizing the riverfront. It includes everything from riverfront trails to a "biohaven" that would use recycled materials to form a riparian habitat for endangered species and migratory birds, according to project information.
Right now the design team is working to refine its proposal, studying its feasibility and gathering public input, according to project manager Mary deLaittre. On Sept. 21, the team will present its recommendations and implementation plans to the city's park board.

HR&A Advisors from New York is working closely with the design team to come up with a strategic plan "that will shape the priority projects and financing approaches," she says.  

Six youth ambassadors are also working to help spread the word about the project and collect feedback at various community events.

One idea that has been well received, deLaittre says, is for a green land bridge over I-94 to link Farview Park to the river. It's a creative solution for reconnecting this part of the city with the river and other parks and trails.

DeLaittre underscores the need for community input, for which people can fill out an online survey. All along the way, comments and images from people are being featured on the website under the heading, "River Is."

"This is a big civic project and it's imperative that people weigh in," she says.

That being said, "The level of support has been tremendous," she says, adding, "People are very interested in making sure it happens."

The project has also attracted the attention of a delegation from Seattle who are  running a civic design competition. In coming to the Twin Cities, the delegation "wanted to emulate the innovative community engagement and coalition-building," she says. 

Source: Mary deLaittre, project manager for Mississippi Riverfront Development Initiative and founder and principal of Groundwork City Building
Writer: Anna Pratt

Big Picture Project aims to focus affordable housing possibilities for Central Corridor

Last month, the Big Picture Project kicked off with a public meeting at the Profile Event Center in Minneapolis, themed around equitable transit-oriented development in Seattle.

It'll help inform future affordable housing projects along the planned 11-mile Central Corridor Light Rail Transit line that is to connect downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Big Picture Project is an effort to come up with a comprehensive affordable housing strategy for this key stretch.

Ryan Curren, a special projects coordinator for the city of Seattle's Office of Housing, who spoke at the meeting last month, says of the project, "It's smart to set affordable housing targets along the corridor and stations years ahead of when the line is running.".

"It gives something to aim for and a way to orient policy proposals toward those goals, with inclusionary goals or new sources of funding or existing sources of funding," he says.

To meet those goals, Seattle has found that "It takes more targeted public subsidy and a tool or policy that requires market-rate developers to create some level of affordable housing in their development," on-site or off-site.

TC LISC, a local branch of a national organization that helps leverage resources for community development, is leading the Big Picture Project in partnership with the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, with the support of the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, according to TC LISC program officer Kristina Homstad.  

As it is, over 30 plans envisioning future affordable housing developments near the line have been put together, but there's no "coordinated plan that brings synergy to this wide range of effort," the project's website reads.

The idea is to "move beyond projects to placemaking."

A "big picture" strategy can help attract investment to the area, stabilize existing housing stock, preserve affordable rentals, and ensure that any new developments are in the best interests of community members, the website explains.

To carry out the project, a team that includes government, finance, community, and development representatives is studying the various affordable housing plans, maps, national case studies, and more.

Based on their findings, the group will come up with some recommendations and policies, which the public will be able to weigh in on in a series of community forums and neighborhood meetings that are underway through September.

In November a final plan will go before various project partners, including the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the Metropolitan Council, and Minnesota Housing, according to Big Picture Project information.

Ultimately, the group hopes that the plan will lead to "better coordinated housing that helps create a sense of place along the Central Corridor and improves residents' lives," the website states. 

Source: Kristina Homstad, program officer, TC LISC, Ryan Curren, city of Seattle
Writer: Anna Pratt

Bikes Belong gathering in Minneapolis highlights city's bicycle integration

Earlier this month, a group of transportation and policy leaders from Pittsburgh, Penn., and Columbus, Ohio, came to Minneapolis to check out its growing bicycle network as a part of a Bikes Belong Foundation workshop.

Gary Sjoquist, government affairs director for Bikes Belong, a national organization that works to increase bicycling, says that it has led similar workshops in Boulder, Colo. and Portland, Ore., "places where there've been significant changes to increase bicycling." 

The group, which is planning another get-together in New York City in the fall, also hosts international tours in cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Munster, Germany, where 40 percent of all trips are taken by bicycle.

When people attend the workshops, "they get to experience it, ride it, and philosophically understand what's going on," he says.

Often a city official will think that developing bicycling infrastructure is a low priority because participation won't be high enough. By coming to Minneapolis or another city, "they can see how bicycling has been integrated and implement what they've seen," he says.  

Those who visited Minneapolis got to see that "what it's like when there are more vehicles on a bike trail than cars on a street nearby, like on certain parts of the greenway," he says.

By the Walker Art Center, where 15th Street intersects with Hennepin Avenue South near Loring Park, the bike lane goes from the street to the sidewalk. "Cyclists can do a left turn on a busy intersection to reach the bike trail," he says. "It's unique to move the bike lane to the sidewalk. I don't think there's any other treatment like it in the U.S."    

Only blocks away, near First Avenue, the bike lane is placed between the line of parked cars and the curb. "That's a lesson from Amsterdam, to move the bike lane to where there are fewer doors opening. It makes for smoother riding for the cyclist," he explains.

Additionally, Minneapolis's bicycle network will grow by 40 percent over the next couple of years, as a related $25 million federal grant continues to be spent. "That's another thing that really struck people who came," he says. "Minneapolis is pretty good in this area, but it will get a lot better once [more] is built." 

Source: Gary Sjoquist, government affairs director, Bikes Belong
Writer: Anna Pratt

St. Paul Parks Conservancy to raise $361,000 to finish Oxford Community Center ballfields

For its second project since it started just over three years ago, the St. Paul Parks Conservancy will tackle the outdoor ballfields--the last round of facility improvements at the Oxford Community Center (Jimmy Lee)

(As a part of its initial project, the conservancy was instrumental in getting various landscape-related enhancements for Lilydale Regional Park. )

Leslie Cook, the nonprofit's interim executive director, describes the center, which was a training ground for baseball greats Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Joe Mauer, as the "crown jewel of recreational centers in the city."
In 2008, the $15 million new building at the Oxford Community Center, which is centrally located in the Rondo neighborhood, opened with a new water park, meeting rooms, "teaching kitchen" for healthy eating, two multi-sports courts, sprung dance floor, and exercise room. "It's a great resource for that area," she says.

But during field construction on the facility's north side, heavy metals were found in the soil, which led to its closure in March 2010. The site's contamination was an unexpected stumbling block.

As a result, children who play on teams that would use the field have to be bused to other locations. "We're adding this energy element the longer we put it off," she says.

Despite the momentum around it, the project likely would've been postponed for some time by the city, but the board thought it was important. "It was close to be being a completed amenity and the board thought it should step up and make it happen."

The MPCA and EPA began remediation work earlier this month while the conservancy is trying to raise $361,000—the gap left in the $1 million project by the contamination—for the field lighting, multi-sport synthetic turf markings, goal posts, backstops, and drinking fountains, according to the website.

It will accommodate football, soccer, baseball, softball, and more. The synthetic turf field will have a drainage system that will make the fields usable even after it rains, she says.

Source: Leslie Cook, interim executive director, St. Paul Parks Conservancy 
Writer: Anna Pratt

St. Paul's $1 million plan for Great River Passage ties together all kinds of riverfront attractions

At a recent public event, the city of St. Paul presented its master plan for 17 miles of the Mississippi riverfront, which it's calling the Great River Passage.

The plan ties together various parks, trails, areas of restored habitat, activity centers, former industrial sites, and more, for over 3,000 acres of river parkland, according to information from the city.

Although planning for the Great River Passage took only about a year, funding for the $1 million project took a decade to get, according to Brad Meyer, a spokesperson for St. Paul parks.

The St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department, Denver, Colo.-based Wenk Associates, and the local Hoisington Koegler Group led the charge, while the Minneapolis-based Little & Company came up with the new Great River Passage branding, according to city information.  
The main idea is to make the riverfront more natural, urban, and connected, Meyer says.

Even though the Mississippi River is the city's chief environmental and economic asset, too much of the riverfront is hard to get to. "The point is to provide access for all of the city's residents," he says. 

The plan lays out a big-picture view for "how we redevelop, leverage private investment, and create nature-based recreation" along the riverfront. 

For example, one part of the plan is about making Watergate Marina at the bend of the Mississippi a hub for recreational activity and environmental education opportunities, according to city information.

Separately, the former Island Station power plant, which is vacant, could become a gathering place. Another idea is to make Shepard Road feel more like a parkway and less like a busy thoroughfare, he says. 

Although current economic circumstances make it difficult to pursue some of these initiatives, Meyer hopes the plan will prepare the city for when funding does come through.
Looking decades into the future, it will "lead us into using the river, making sure we understand its values and move forward as an entire city."

Source: Brad Meyer, St. Paul Parks
Writer: Anna Pratt

A high-tech promotion helps people learn about sustainability efforts in St. Paul

Visit Saint Paul is collaborating with the city of St. Paul on a high-tech promotion that encourages people to explore downtown landmarks where various sustainability efforts are underway.

As a part of the contest, which runs until Oct. 1 and is called "Saint Paul: Code Green," players can scan large QR codes on banners that adorn 16 sites, according to Jake Spano, a city spokesperson.

QR codes are a kind of barcode that's readable by smartphones. People can also enter the contest by using text messages and paper forms. 

After scanning the QR code, participants will be directed on their phones to a website that "will give the user a branded experience based on the location they are at," which includes links to related eco-friendly facts and initiatives, according to a prepared statement about the event. 

City Hall, Park Square Theatre, and Como Park Zoo and Conservatory are just three of the many and varied venues participating.

Spano hopes the promotion helps convey how the city has become a leader in sustainability, helping to educate people about the benefits of its green initiatives both in terms of cost and energy efficiency. 

"We want to get people to think, to create a curiosity around prominent tourist attractions and drive traffic downtown," he says.

Possible home initiatives range from retrofitting old windows to switching out fluorescent light bulbs to be more energy efficient. "These are things that people can do at home and apply to their daily life," Spano says. 

Additionally, participants have the chance to win various green prizes, including a 2011 Chevrolet Volt, an energy-efficient furnace, an Energy Star-rated washer and dryer and an electric lawn mower.

Source: Jake Spano, City of St. Paul
Writer: Anna Pratt

Five-mile RiverLake Greenway becomes city's first bicycle boulevard

In Minneapolis, the RiverLake Greenway, which has been in the works for 15 years, recently opened the city's first bicycle boulevard.

RiverLake is a five-mile east-west-running bike and pedestrian corridor that connects Lake Harriet to the Mississippi River, according to information from Bike Walk Twin Cities, an initiative of Transit for Livable Communities, which administers the project.

The bikeway, which got its start in the 1990s after a group of neighborhood activists pushed for it, was finished after a $400,000 grant came through this spring from Bike Walk Twin Cities.

Minneapolis is one of four cities across the country that received $22 million as a part of a 2005 federal nonmotorized transportation pilot program to encourage biking and walking infrastructure, according to Hilary Reeves, a spokesperson for Bike Walk Twin Cities. 

The bikeway "creates a network so people can bike and get across the city," in a way that's "friendly to cyclists with different skill sets," she says.  

It goes through residential areas along parts of 40th and 42nd Streets East, between the Midtown Greenway and Minnehaha Creek.

Features such as striped bike lanes on its eastern and western ends, and the bicycle boulevard lining the lengthiest part of the greenway, help make the bikeway safe and accessible for bicyclists and pedestrians, according to information from Bike Walk Twin Cities.

It's the first of a handful of bikeways that are planned for the area in conjunction with the federal pilot program, according to Reeves.

Biking is a small piece of the local transportation system but it can make a big difference when it comes to people's health and the environment. "The boulevard gets people thinking about how they're getting somewhere. It gives them options to try biking," she says.

Source: Hilary Reeves, Bike Walk Twin Cities
Writer: Anna Pratt

Mississippi riverfront design competition winner sharpens focus on redevelopment plan

TLS/KVA, a design team that's based partly in Boston and Berkeley, Calif., has begun an information-gathering phase to bring its RiverFirst concept to fruition.

In February, the team won the Mississippi Riverfront Design Competition (MRDC) with the proposal, which involves "inter-related design initiatives focused on health, mobility, and green economy," and which, functioning on many different levels, aims to help raise awareness about how consumers impact the river system, according to a prepared statement about the proposal.

The competition asked for proposals that would reorient the area to the river, with a main idea being that parks can be a powerful engine for sustainable recreational, cultural, and economic development--something that is especially needed along the river, an area that historically has been underused, according to project materials.        

For its efforts, TLS/KVA has secured a commission, though the scope, location, and features are still up in the air, according to project information.

To figure out what specific aspects of its ambitious RiverFirst proposal will be doable, the team is researching other existing riverfront-related plans, while also getting feedback from various experts and community members and nailing down possible funding sources, according to project manager Mary deLaittre.  

On April 6, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board approved $267,000 in contracts for this phase of the project, which has a new heading: Mississippi Riverfront Design Initiative.

Ultimately over the next six months, TLS/KVA will work to define an implementation plan for both a long-term framework and a more immediate project--so this is a transitional phase into development, she explains. 

In late April, TLS/KVA had its first steering, advisory, and technical committee meetings with the park board. It'll continue to meet in the coming months, and then unveil a firmer plan to committee members in September, she says.

The committees, which will be open to the public, offer "critical connections and opportunities for community engagement," says deLaittre.

With a project of this scale, "it's important to collaborate across institutions and the public and private sector," she says, adding, "We want to avoid a piecemeal approach."

What sets apart this community engagement process from others, she says, is that "we're trying to substantively engage people and turn to them for what they're best at."

Source: Mary deLaittre, project manager for the Mississippi Riverfront Design Initiative 
Writer: Anna Pratt

Metropolitan Council asks public for catchy name for new transit system

The Metropolitan Council is asking the public for a "catchy and clever" name for the area's new regional transit system, which includes light rail and bus rapid transit routes, some of which are still in early development stages.

Although there are no specific rules for the name game, Arlene McCarthy, who is the director of Metropolitan Transportation Services, says it needs to allude to the "premium service here in the Twin Cities."

The system she's referencing includes the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit line, the planned Central Corridor Light Rail Transit line and bus rapid transit along I-35W South, Cedar Avenue and "other high-demand corridors in the future," according to a prepared statement.

These routes are set apart from other public transportation modes because they offer frequent, all-day service, predictable arrival times, special lanes, and enhanced vehicles and stations, she says.  

McCarthy says the council wants to hear about what kinds of ideas resonate with people, adding that the Minnesota Wild hockey team underwent a similar christening process some years ago.

One example of a transit-specific name is in San Francisco, where there's BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit. But another approach might be to look at the region more broadly, without using an acronym, she says.  

Additionally, because the branding is about the public, she says, "we want the public to identify with the system name," she says. "Who better to ask than those who use the system?"

The deadline for submissions is March 18 and the council is accepting them on its website, via email, regular mail, phone, and fax.

A group of marketing and communications specialists from various government offices, businesses, and chambers of commerce will sift through submissions in May and June, she says.
Source: Arlene McCarthy, director, Metropolitan Transportation Services
Writer: Anna Pratt

Nice Ride grows with $1.78 million in 'phase two' funding

The local nonprofit organization Nice Ride Minnesota recently announced that it's collected $1.78 million to deliver 50 new bike-sharing stations to Minneapolis and St. Paul as a part of its "phase two" plan.

The program got going last June with 700 bikes between 65 stations throughout Minneapolis, according to program information. Over 100,000 trips were taken in its first season.  

Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which was a phase-one sponsor, has released $500,000 of the $1.5 million it promised on the condition that others match it, according to Nice Ride information.

Transit for Livable Communities (TLC), which funnels federal dollars to local walking and biking initiatives through the Bike Walk Twin Cities program, was also a phase-one sponsor. It gave $1 million this time around. 

The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative contributed $250,000, while another $30,000 came from Macalester College's High Winds Fund.

Bike-sharing stations can currently be found in and around downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota campus, and Uptown, according to Nice Ride information.

North Minneapolis is already slated to get eight new stations, while others are planned for University Avenue in St. Paul, although exact sites are still being pinpointed, according to Nice Ride executive director Bill Dossett.  

The goal is to get 130 stations, Dossett says, adding, "This is a good start." 

In the placement of bike stations, Nice Ride is striving for regional equity, while also trying to make them convenient for workplaces and transit connections--paying close attention to where the public wants to have them.

This year the program will do a lot of low-income outreach. The idea is to "make it easy for a lot of people to use bikes," he says.

Many stations are scheduled to open around April 1, depending on the weather, he says.   

In Minneapolis, Denver and Washington, D.C., all of which have implemented similar bike-sharing programs, "The result has been immediate," he says. "All three have had very good success."

Source: Bill Dossett, executive director, Nice Ride Minnesota
Writer: Anna Pratt

Mississippi Riverfront Design Contest winner to 'go with the flow'

When the TLS/KVA team of landscape architects and designers strolled a 5.5-mile stretch of the Mississippi River starting at the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis and heading north, they climbed over fences to get a better view of the landscape. It almost got them arrested for trespassing. 

TLS/KVA is a partnership between the Berkeley-based Tom Leader Studio and Kennedy & Violich Architecture from Boston.

Sheila Kennedy, one of the team members leading the charge, says too much of the river is off the beaten track. "We felt the river edge is where people should be," adding, "It's so difficult to get there now."   

TLS/KVA, which has a partnership with nine local firms, was announced as the winner of the Mississippi Riverfront Design Competition on Feb. 10. The contest, jointly held by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Minneapolis Parks Foundation, Walker Art Center and University of Minnesota College of Design, solicited proposals from four finalist teams from across the globe.

TLS/KVA stood out for its proposal, titled RiverFIRST, which focuses on water, health, mobility and green economy.

The goals were to re-establish the parks as an economic engine for development and make the river—one of the three great rivers of the world—a connector, not a divider, and reorient the city around that focus, according to contest project manager Mary DeLaittre.    

Whether it's about rediscovering the Northside Wetlands or establishing floating "habitat islands" that happen to be formed from recycled water bottles, "RiverFIRST design initiatives function at multiple scales to link larger natural, social, civic, and economic ecologies and raise citizen awareness about the impacts of consumer choices on the Upper Mississippi River," a prepared statement reads.  

TLS/KVA will be awarded a riverfront parks commission, the details of which will be determined over the course of a four-month transitional phase.

Source: Sheila Kennedy, KVA, Mary DeLaittre, Mississippi Riverfront Design Competition  
Writer: Anna Pratt

Mississippi Riverfront Design Competition: Four finalists lay out inspiring visions

Coming up with inspiring visions for reconnecting the city of Minneapolis to the Mississippi River--one of three great rivers in the world--is no easy task, but that's just what the contestants in the Mississippi Riverfront Design Competition set out to do.

The four finalist teams, which were chosen in November, are competing for a commission to redesign 220 acres of parkland along the Mississippi, starting near the Stone Arch Bridge and pushing the city's northern boundary.  

They presented their plans to an audience of over 400 people at the Walker Art Center last week, while another 200 viewers watched online. A winner will be announced Feb. 10.  

Mary deLaittre, the contest's project manager, who is also the founder and principal of Groundwork City Building, says each design was impressive.

For starters, the New York City-based Ken Smith Workshop's plan "clearly walked people along the river," she says, adding, "That was the strongest element. It gave a clear concept of the parks along the river." 

Boston's Stoss Landscape Urbanism had a clear understanding that "we need to reclaim and redefine the river quickly," while the firm also recognized the importance of marketing and branding the endeavor in unique ways.

Likewise, TLS/KVA out of Berkeley, Calif., "distinguished themselves with an innovative, comprehensive and integrated approach," that included a considerable amount of community engagement.

The group touched on topics such as health, mobility and green economy, educating people about consumer impacts on the river.

Last, Turenscape team members who come from Beijing, China, "really outdid themselves with a quality video that looks at the river over 50 years." 

Although each team was paid $30,000, deLaittre says, individually the teams put in another $250,000 in time, expertise and production--hard work that will have lasting value. 

Video footage of their presentations can be seen on the project website, where there's also a form for submitting feedback.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Minneapolis Parks Foundation cosponsored the contest along with creative partners, the Walker Art Center and University of Minnesota College of Design.

Source: Mary deLaittre, project manager, Mississippi Riverfront Design Competition and founder and principal for Groundwork City Building 
Writer: Anna Pratt

A $243 million project to make St. Paul Union Depot a multimodal transit hub  

Through a $243 million renovation that has long been in the works, the historic St. Paul Union Depot will become a multimodal transit hub, providing access to the region, Milwaukee, Chicago, and beyond.

The project broke ground on Jan. 18.

St. Paul policy director Nancy Homans says it'll be a center of transportation activity akin to transit hubs in New York City and Washington, D.C. "It's a strong element of the regional economy."     

Amtrak, metro area buses and express buses, the Central Corridor Light Rail line, and pedestrian and bicycle traffic will run through the depot. Greyhound and Jefferson bus lines might also come into play, according to city information.

It harks back to the 1881 depot's early days, when it was known as the transportation center of the Upper Midwest and the gateway to the Northwest, according to historical information from Ramsey County Regional Rail.

Financing for the renovation comes from a combination of county, state, and federal funds, including $50 million from the last federal transportation bill and $35 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to city information.

Ramsey County is studying what kind of activity should go on there to make it more than a pass-through. After all, Homans explains, "It's an economic center, in and of itself."     
As the region grows and develops over the next several decades, having more people taking advantage of public transit will lead to less congestion. "Businesses today say there's a congestion tax," with trucks sitting in traffic.

The project represents a shift away from highway building, which she characterized as a drag on the economy. "It frees up the resources that would be put into roads and highways and draws it to the center," she says. "It's much more efficient for the long term."

A more efficient system can "set a pattern of activity to save the planet and support the economic prosperity of the region."  

Trains last ran at the depot 40 years ago. It was mothballed and then part of it was used by the U.S. Postal Service. Eventually the county acquired it for the transit project.

"It's a very cool building," she says, adding that the renovation will make it a "wonderful asset."

The renovation project is planned to wrap up in 2012.

Source: Nancy Homans
Writer: Anna Pratt

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