Funders Collaborative and its Partners Focus on Helping Neighborhoods, Residents and Businesses Benefit from Central Corridor Light Rail Line

Long-term benefits require thinking, planning, and investing beyond the rail

Central Corridor Light Rail Bus TourST. PAUL, Minn. (October 22, 2009) – When the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Line goes live in 2014, it will improve mobility, reduce congestion between St. Paul and Minneapolis, and add another spoke to the region’s transportation infrastructure.

While much of the public attention today is on building the rail line itself, in the coming decades, the nearly $1 billion project is also expected to stimulate transit-oriented investment along the route and in adjacent neighborhoods that will change how people live, work and access opportunity far into the future. To make sure these communities see broader benefits from the project, the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative is helping to focus thinking, planning and investing beyond the rail.

Today, the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative – a group of local and national funders – unveiled its investment strategy via a Corridor bus tour, highlighting the ways in which it works corridor-wide with local resident organizations, community groups, nonprofit and business coalitions, and public agencies to ensure adjoining neighborhoods, residents and businesses broadly share in the benefits of public and private investment along the Central Corridor Light Rail Line.

The Collaborative and its partners envision a Central Corridor that is a place of opportunity – accessible to people at all income levels, reflective of community identities, and that links all people to local amenities and opportunities such as education, health care, recreation and employment.

“We support the Central Corridor Light Rail Line because it offers an opportunity to strengthen the regional economy and make the adjacent neighborhoods better places to live and work,” said The Saint Paul Foundation’s John Couchman, co-chair of the Funders Collaborative and one of the early instigators of the work. “It’s not just about transit, we’re focused on maximizing the opportunities and the prosperity for the people who live and work along the Corridor."

“We started by learning more about transit-oriented development, and why light rail projects succeed or fall short in spurring economic development and building prosperity,” Couchman added. “As funders, we want to have greater impact on these issues. Working together and investing strategically and proactively, we believe that we will have an impact on a local and regional scale. This is a historic opportunity to encourage and support corridor-wide development that will benefit the neighborhoods, residents and businesses along the line for generations to come.”

“To benefit from a long-term, large-scale project like the Light Rail Transit, planning is a vital prelude to taking effective action,” said Jonathan Sage-Martinson, director of the Funders Collaborative. “Yet for small businesses just trying to survive construction, residents worried about the affordability of staying in their homes, or community advocates working on different issues, it’s very challenging to collaborate. Our role is helping these diverse stakeholders build corridor-wide relationships and create action plans that achieve the outcomes they – we all – want.”

Over the course of the 10-year Central Corridor initiative, the Funders Collaborative plans to invest $20 million to fund projects that maximize the benefit for people who live and work in the neighborhoods along the Central Corridor. So far, it has invested nearly $1 million in the areas of access to affordable housing, strengthening the local economy along the route, encouraging new transit-oriented places, and stimulating communication and collaboration among community groups doing the work.

Central Corridor Light Rail ImageOne of the early initiatives in which the Funders Collaborative has invested is the University Avenue Business Preparation Collaborative (U7). This is a group of seven community-based economic development organizations focused on ensuring that local businesses survive and thrive as a result of the Central Corridor investment. Mike Temali, President and CEO of the Neighborhood Development Center, spoke on the bus tour which featured U7 as an example of a partnership already in the field doing important work.

“We went to the Funders Collaborative for one of its first grants and with its help – and that of several other partners — we’ve been able to provide immediate and tangible help to small businesses that will have a direct impact on their bottom line results,” Temali explained. “We’ve hired three people to work one-on-one with small businesses on University Avenue to strengthen their marketing and operations, and we’re helping them look beyond the construction phase to how they can thrive after the train is here. Once construction is over in 2014 and the train is running, this will be a different marketplace for our businesses. They need to be ready for this change.”

The Invest Beyond the Rail Bus Tour along the Corridor highlighted the issues, opportunities and challenges that the Funders Collaborative and its partners are addressing. The tour visited business districts and proposed new station locations, while surveying efforts to preserve existing affordable housing and to create new affordable housing along the line. For example, a Funders Collaborative grant to the National Center for Transit-Oriented Development helped the City of St. Paul’s Central Corridor Affordable Housing Partnership examine the time line and feasibility of building housing as part of development on different types of land parcels along the line.

Funders Collaborative members are Annie E. Casey Foundation, F.R. Bigelow Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Living Cities, Inc., McKnight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation, Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation, The Saint Paul Foundation, Surdna Foundation, and Travelers Foundation.