Industry Watch

Gauging Green Line growth

We ask the experts how the still-new light rail service linking St. Paul and Minneapolis is affecting real estate and development

By Alex Harvison
03-25-2015

The Green Line light rail service connecting the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis opened last summer. With ridership numbers surpassing expectations, Minnesota Business asked experts about the line’s impact on real estate and development.

HERBERT TOUSLEY

Exeter Group, Chief Development Manager & Principal

Does Exeter have any projects along the Green Line?

HT: Yes we do. At the end of 2012 we completed a housing rehabilitation project on the Chittenden & Eastman Company building located on University Avenue We renovated the 1917 vintage, seven-story warehouse building into what is now known as the C&E lofts, which has 104 apartment units. We also purchased the Custom House building in St. Paul, which is located along the Green Line.

Did your company choose these locations because of the Green Line?

HT: When we purchased the C&E building in 2010, we knew the Green Line was coming. And while there were risks, we anticipated it would be a huge asset to the area and would be a great connector. Linking Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the University of Minnesota with good transportation options makes a lot of sense and should promote additional growth in the cities and along the line. Other than that, historic tax credits also helped us to purchase what’s now C&E … It acted as a subsidy and created a budget that worked.

How will areas along the line continue to change?

HT: Into the future it’s hard to say, but it’s probably going to be pockets of residential and commercial. But companies will look for transportation amenities to help with employees.

 

GINA CIGANIK

Aeon MN's Renaissance Box apartments.

Aeon MN, VP of Housing Development

Aeon has purchased the old Habitat for Humanity building in Prospect Park. Can you tell us a bit about that project?

GC: The project is on a 7-acre lot and will be a high-performance building with 55 units. We’re now just working on finalizing who it will serve, but the units will be rental affordable housing.

Did your company choose that building because of the Green Line?

GC: Yes, we absolutely consider transit. We were very specific to finding a location that was central to both Minneapolis and St. Paul. So it was perfect when the Habitat building went up for sale.

Has Aeon done projects along the Green Line in the past?

GC: Yes, we have what’s called the Renaissance Box apartments, which opened in 2011. But back when we were starting that project, we heard that the light rail was coming we were very excited. We also have another 1.8-acre project located at Vandalia and University in St. Paul, which will be a combination of residential and commercial. We began financing for the project in 2015 and construction will start next year.

Do you think the areas along the Green Line will continue to develop?

GC: It absolutely will develop and in a lot of different ways. I think the area that will need the most attention will be the east side of the Green Line because of finances. But as a community we need to focus in on areas that might get overlooked.
 

SANDY JACOBS

An upcoming building from Update Company at 661 LaSalle St.

Update Company, Partner

Can you tell us a little bit about Update Company?

SJ: Update is a family-owned second-generation company that’s been around for 30 years. We focus on buying and renovating older buildings and then leasing them. We’ve worked on roughly 12 to 13 buildings in total and still own eight of them.

Does your company have any projects in areas the Green Line runs along?

SJ: We currently have three buildings located on University Avenue near Raymond Station. Interestingly enough, roughly 25 percent of our tenants are folks who work for nonprofits.

Do you think the Green Line will bring more development or change to the areas it runs along?

SJ: I think we’ve definitely seen an increase in interest in the area. We’ll probably see more areas that are now market-driven and less subsidized. We really love the Midway area and how it’s equidistant between the cities. Midway has always been a great area, and now with the Green Line it really helps to emphasize that.

JONATHAN SAGE-MARTINSON; GARY LEAVITT

Director, Department of Planning and Economic Development, the City of St. Paul; Transit-Oriented Development Manager, PED

What were some of the challenges or concerns when planning and developing the Green Line?

JSM: The Green Line has been a long time coming over the last three years. There were concerns of disrupting construction and causing traffic issues. We had to work out how to phase the construction that was going on. And we also set up a help line so people could alert us the minute a problem arose.

The Green Line has been running since last summer. How do people feel about it now that it’s been running for a while?

JSM: The ridership has been incredible and beyond projection. In fact, Central Station in St. Paul is one of the busiest stations by far.

Do businesses based in the areas along the Green Line feel like it’s made a difference for them?

GL: Restaurants are starting to see more people who otherwise would not be able to reach them easily, especially during the business lunch hours. So businesses are excited, but the real difference will come once it reaches summertime.

Does the Green Line make it easier to start new developments?

JSM: It’s certainly accelerated development and interest. Currently there’s $2.7 billion in projects that are reaching completion, underway, or have been proposed.

GL: The market hasn’t really gone up in value because of the Green Line. I think the current challenge is finding owners to do projects on large land spots. But we are starting to see more and more residences with the commercial. We’re just really pleased with what’s in the pipeline for commercial and residential.
 

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