Update: On Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton announced that Southwest Light Rail Transit would receive $2 million of the $14 million requested.
While Hopkins leaders aren’t happy the Department of Employment and Economic Development rejected the Metropolitan Council’s $14 million request for Southwest Light Rail Transit, they don’t expect the decision to slow downtown development plans.
“I feel like we can’t change our long-term vision for a short-term setback,” said Kersten Elverum, the city’s director of economic development and planning. “Obviously, it was really disappointing news.”
Planners have shaped downtown development to take advantage of a light rail line that is supposed to run just across Excelsior Boulevard. However, many of the optimizations for Southwest LRT are beneficial even without the line.
Mainstreet will still benefit from more visibility—whether that extra visibility attracts light rail riders or drivers on Excelsior. City planners have proposed transforming Eighth Avenue into a one-way, pedestrian- and bike-friendly street that entices visitors into Hopkins’ downtown.
To spur Eighth Avenue improvements, the city is using grant funds to hire a consultant who will host an art summit in November to discuss how to use art in the corridor. The consultant will then develop concept and detailed design plans for what the city is calling The Artery and help officials find outside funding to implement those plans.
The light rail setback doesn’t change that process.
The rejection may have modest effects on Hopkins’ new mixed-use developments: the Marketplace & Main project on Mainstreet and the Klodt project on the old Park Nicollet and Lutheran Digest sites. Klodt included 4,500 square feet of so-called “quasi retail” on Eighth Avenue that could be either residential or retail because of predictions that the market doesn’t have much appetite for retail at the moment.
While light rail could bring the extra traffic necessary to jumpstart retail occupancies, the developers designed the projects to be profitable under existing conditions.
“They’ll do great with or without light rail,” Elverum said.
And even with the most recent setback, which follows the Legislature’s continued refusal to fund the project, Elverum said it makes sense to plan for light rail.
“I think what (DEED’s decision) means is we’re just going to have to be really articulate when we go before the Legislature,” she said.