The years-planned Brownstone apartment redevelopment project along the Green Line light-rail transit corridor at University Avenue and Victoria Street in St. Paul has broken ground for 35 apartments targeted to working-class folks.

And, in a construction boom of the last six years that has featured taxpayer-financed stadiums and many high-buck residential rental projects in Minneapolis and St. Paul, this is more evidence of a modest increase in affordable housing.

Brownstone, which is being built on a vacant lot and replacing an adjacent antiquated building, will “make a positive contribution to the community, not only because it will eliminate blight and improve aesthetics but also because the area will become more pedestrian friendly, which in turn will deter crime,” said longtime CEO Beverley Hawkins of Model Cities. “Over time, University Avenue will begin to resemble … a dynamic, cutting-edge section, helping keep existing businesses while attracting a wide variety of new businesses to the area.”

The Brownstone project will consist of 32 one-bedroom and three two-bedroom units, as well as 20,000 square feet of office and retail space, including the Model Cities headquarters. Rents will range from $691 to $839 for one-bedroom spaces to about $1,005 for two-bedroom units. The $14.8 million project is under the hammer of St. Paul’s Flannery Construction.

These affordable projects take longer, noted Hawkins and Flannery President Jamey Flannery. They typically involve several private, public and foundation partners as well as tax-credit investors in historic districts to drive down the overall cost.

A recent report by Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) indicates the effort to diversify housing along the booming “central corridor” is working thanks to nonprofit developers, local businesses, banks, government, and neighborhood organizations.

Of the 6,388 new housing units built between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul along the Green Line since 2011, about 20 percent have been designated as affordable to households that earn up to 60 percent of Twin Cities-area median household income. That’s about $52,000 for a family of four. A group of private and public officials, dubbed “The Big Picture Project,” are trying to ensure that the light-rail transit benefits St. Paul’s traditional and integrated neighborhoods — such as Rondo, Frogtown, Little Mekong, Lowertown and Midway — with jobs and housing that will also benefit local residents.

Mayor Chris Coleman’s office said after five years the Green Line already has driven about half of the $7 billion in development projects, not counting the Vikings or St. Paul Saints stadium, that were forecast over 30 years following light-rail transit construction.

The nearly $1 billion Green Line, funded by federal and local government sources, increasingly looks like a good investment so far for St. Paul and the University Avenue corridor.

Minneapolis ranks high for ‘creative’ economy

The city of Minneapolis is lauding the national 2015 Creative Vitality Index, which found that the creative sector of art, music and other cultural activities pumped more than $4.5 billion into the Minneapolis economy last year.

That’s nearly eight times the size of Minneapolis’ sports-sector revenue, the city said in a news release. Moreover, creative jobs have grown at a 10.4 percent rate, outpacing overall job growth in Minneapolis. And the Minneapolis score is sixth highest among U.S. peer cities.

Among other findings, only 9 percent of creative jobs go to people of color in Minneapolis compared with 14 percent in the Twin Cities region and 17 percent nationally.

About half of the jobs are held by women locally and nationally.

The average creative worker in Minneapolis makes $20.79 an hour, lower than creatives in the Twin Cities region who average $25.13 per hour.

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.