ST. Paul, Minn. (December 14, 2010) – With only months until light rail construction begins on University Avenue, businesses owners gathered at Ax-Man Surplus Store to express anger and frustration at the continuing lack of urgency by officials to provide compensation funding to save jobs and businesses threatened by the impending construction.
As a result, business owners are taking steps to hold leaders of the Central Corridor Light Rail project accountable. Until now, businesses have been very patient hoping for answers, but the urgency of the situation calls for them to act now. Thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses on University Avenue are at risk.
During light rail construction, all on-street parking will be lost on University Avenue. Most on-street parking will be permanently eliminated. Access to businesses will be drastically reduced and at times non-existent during construction. Utility shut-offs will cause additional disruptions.
Each business can expect to be impacted for up to 300 or more days the first two years as construction proceeds through different phases. For some businesses, disruptions will be so costly that they will have no choice but to shut down for a time or permanently close. Others will have no choice but to leave the Avenue.
“I am worried my business will not be able to support 32 employees with extended periods of disruptions,” said Jim Segal, owner of Ax-Man Surplus Stores. “I am being put in a position where I will have to let people go because we will not be able to support our overhead with a substantial loss in revenue caused by construction. A project designed to promote development should not put existing businesses at risk of survival.”
The disruption and closure of businesses caused by construction will put thousands of people at risk of losing their jobs. It has become clear that the only solution to save jobs and businesses threatened by the light rail construction is to establish an emergency compensation fund to help businesses that need it to survive construction or relocate. Experience from other cities and Lowertown Saint Paul has shown that businesses will lose 30%-60% in revenue during construction. Lowertown businesses have endured construction for more than a year and experienced disruptions, lost customers, lost revenues, and laid off workers. One popular business closed.
“University Avenue will be a disaster zone for four years,” said Pam Thao of Quality Plus Home Healthcare. “How can you expect us to survive through that? Are our jobs not worth saving?”
The existing programs to support businesses during construction are inadequate and poorly planned. They do not address the two most urgent survival needs of businesses that will be impacted by construction: parking and compensation. Any business facing a disaster, whether natural or man-made, will need emergency compensation in order to survive, keep its employees, and pay its bills.
The University of Minnesota and Minnesota Public Radio, recognizing the impact of the construction on their businesses, requested mitigation compensation and received tens of millions of dollars to protect their assets. University Avenue businesses should not be treated any differently.
For more than two years, business owners have advocated and repeatedly pled for adequate emergency compensation funding, yet officials have been unwilling to help them. Leaders of the light rail project have continued to ignore the voices of businesses and minimize the devastating impact this project will have on businesses. Some businesses have closed or moved and others are planning to relocate off the Avenue. Those staying on the Avenue see little hope for assistance, so they are taking matters into their own hands.
This represents a new direction for those business owners that have endured chronic disregard from leaders of the Central Corridor project.
UABA is a non-profit organization of businesses and supporters who are working to ensure that a viable and diverse business and residential environment is sustained and enhanced on University Avenue. We are dedicated to the development of a strong collaborative relationship among the business community, residential community, local government, and the people we serve.
The Asian Economic Development Association is a community and business driven nonprofit organization. Its mission is to cultivate vibrant, diverse communities by creating economic opportunities. It focuses on developing, strengthening, and retaining Asian entrepreneurs and small businesses. AEDA does not oppose the CCLRT, but supports transit projects that benefit entrepreneurs, small businesses and enhance existing communities.