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Hennepin County works to prepare businesses along proposed Blue Line Extension corridor

Updated: September 05, 2019 10:22 PM

Businesses hoping to benefit from the METRO Blue Line Extension/Bottineau LRT are getting help from Hennepin County.

The light rail project would extend the Blue Line from Target Field to Brooklyn Park. There are 11 proposed stops along the 13-mile route.

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“We know light rail will bring a lot of development, a lot of opportunities to corridor cities or station areas,” said Kerri Pearce Ruch, with Hennepin County. “We also know there are thriving businesses and really wonderful business nodes in the Bottineau corridor today. We want to help those existing business owners prosper and thrive and grow their businesses.”

Pearce Ruch is the economic development project manager for the Bottineau Community Works program.

She said the county launched an RFP asking nonprofits for a plan to help businesses along the corridor.

Now, they’ve selected one proposal by Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) and another by Neighborhood Development Center and African Career Education and Resources Inc.

Each of the two projects will get $125,000. It's funded by a McKnight Foundation grant awarded to the county. The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners is expected to vote on the contracts by the end of September.

The nonprofits will focus on giving businesses technical support.

“Bookkeeping or accounting services, maybe an update to their payroll system, it could be helping them create a website or better marketing material for their business,” she said. “It could even be something like helping them with business expansion or helping them improve the façade, or their front windows to draw more customers in.”

Nelima Sitati Munene, executive director of African Career Education and Resources Inc., said they plan to reach out to about 200 businesses.

“What do you need right now? So looking at them, what are some of the challenges you're facing?” she said. “What can we put in place for you right now so you can be able to survive the construction.”

“Understand what is the timeline, how can they prepare for the physical disruptions that are going to happen.”

Sitati Munene said they will focus on businesses within a quarter-mile of the proposed line, some of which may want to move closer to the proposed stations.

Sitati Munene told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she’s been doing community outreach about the Blue Line Extension for about seven years.

“People have a lot of interest in being able to grow small businesses, we have a lot of micro-businesses in the community,” she said. “How can we take advantage of this infrastructure so we can leverage it for economic development so that people can have better jobs, grow businesses and grow wealth in the community.”

She encourages businesses who need help to reach out.

“This is great,” said Wynfred Russell, a staff member at ACER and a Brooklyn Park City Council Member.

Four of the proposed stops are in his district.

“We live in a transit dependent area, so we have a lot of people of color, a lot of community groups that live in this area that depend on transit,” said Russell.

He said it will connect businesses, give parents another option to take their kids to school, and improve access to three colleges in his district.

“The light rail is going to bring more than just taking people from point A to point B, it's going to help develop and improve quality of life for people in the northwest suburbs,” he said.

But Russell is concerned it’s taking so long for the extension to move forward.

"Folks are pressing us to make sure it comes through," he said.

The Metropolitan Council wants to share eight miles of BNSF-owned track.

The railway said in a statement Thursday, "We’ve told Met Council repeatedly for the past several years and as recently as this spring that we are not proceeding with any discussion of passenger rail on our property in this corridor."

The Met Council told us, "The project is still in the engineering phase and federal funds have not been applied for yet. We are still charting a path forward with BNSF, but as of today there is no agreement."

Russell said he’s been discussing the project with Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives Melissa Hortman and Governor Tim Walz.

Despite the stall, Pearce Ruch said the business preparation program has immediate benefits.

“There are businesses that are thriving, that are assets in the corridor today and this work we're doing today really strengthens them,” she said. “We have a great opportunity to move forward with this work now. It will also help them plan for future LRT but really benefits them today.”

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