How Much Development Has Green Line Really Generated?

Updated: 06/16/2014 7:44 AM
Created: 06/12/2014 3:02 PM
By: Josh Rosenthal

Did the new Green Line spur billions of dollars of development? Turns out that's a complicated question.

5 EYEWITNESS News started looking into it when the Metropolitan Council said in May that the Green Line helped attract $2.5 billion worth of projects.

"We think it's actually a fairly conservative estimate," said Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh.

But is it an accurate estimate?

The Met Council's figure includes 121 projects. KSTP reached out to the developers and heard back from 25. Nineteen of them said they like the Green Line, but they would have developed in the same spot with or without it.

Most of those 19 responses were along the lines of what Park Square Theatre Executive Director Michael jon-Pease said: "We were going to build the new stage regardless of the Green Line."

Park Square Theatre has been in the Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul since 1997. Even though they were going to put their new stage, called the Andy Boss Stage, in the same building one way or the other, the new development was still counted in the Met Council Green Line study.

"It is very much a cherry on top," Pease said, "but we were going to do this regardless."

The other six developers we heard from sounded more like Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota CEO Michael Wirth-Davis.

"We want our folks to have accessible transportation," he said. Goodwill is about to build a new two-story store and job placement center on University Avenue in St. Paul. The Green Line is essential for their customers.

"We eliminate barriers to work and independence for folks," Wirth-Davis said. "A barrier for a lot of folks is transportation, getting from point A to point B."

But again, our research shows that Goodwill is in the minority. So that $2.5 billion figure? ...

"I think it's high," said Jim McComb, president of the McComb Group, which consults on retail and transit oriented development projects. He says a lot of the developments included in the Met Council's study probably weren't built because of the light rail.

For instance, he says the entire student housing was probably built because it's close to the University of Minnesota, not the light rail. He says Union Depot is part of a larger project that was in the works before the Green Line. Also, downtown Minneapolis and the Warehouse District had a condominium boom, a target field boom, and then an apartment boom. McComb doesn't think all of that is because of the Green Line.

"Because transit costs a lot of money, these are expensive investments; there's always a desire to demonstrate that the public is getting a payback," he said of the study.

We told Met Council Chair Susan Haigh what we heard from developers. She told us a lot of factors influenced the development.

"I would say the Green Line and transit development is definitely a part of it," she said. "Is it the sole reason for it? Oh absolutely not."

So how much of that $2.5 billion was really because of the Green Line? Fact is, we don't know.

"I really don't know," Haige said. "Couldn't answer that. Don't have a crystal ball."

So everyone is in agreement that the Green Line has helped development. How much development, however, is a much tougher question to answer.

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