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Continued: Green Line trains get the green light, with ribbon-cutting, free rides

Such historic changes had some neighborhood activists worried, remembering how Interstate 94 devastated the Rondo area when the freeway came through in the 1960s. Initial Green Line plans didn’t include stations at Victoria Street and two others in low-income St. Paul neighborhoods dependent on transit.

A few protesters

About 20 groups rallied to get the Green Line stops in their neighborhood, which added time for riders trying to go downtown-to-downtown, but added convenience and vibrancy to their stretch of University.

As Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” blared in the background at the corner of Victoria and University, Nieeta Pres­ley, executive director of the Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corp., said this day was “a victory for the Rondo neighborhood.

“It’s a symbol,” she said. “It’s a symbol of the pain. It’s a symbol of the healing. It’s a symbol for the great legacy that built this community. And it’s a tribute to the future.”

Voices of protest

A block away, at the corner of Avon Street and University, the mood was decidedly more sour. A group of about a dozen foes of the Green Line and other transit expansion efforts held signs expressing that opposition.

“Nobody’s going to ride it,” said Sharon Davis of Brooklyn Park. The millions of dollars spent on the Green Line and similar projects would be better spent on fixing roads and other infrastructure, she said.

“What does this do for me?” she said. “I need my car.”

Steve Ellenwood, of Woodbury, who organized the demonstration, said midday ridership on the Blue Line is sparse and predicted the same with the Green Line. “People aren’t going to stand out here when it’s 40-below waiting for a train,” he said. “It makes no sense.”

Waiting for the ‘money train’

But for business owners along the line, who have endured years of construction, Saturday was a day to rejoice.

Mike Hatzistamoulos, owner of the Best Steak House at University and Victoria for 27 years, opened an hour early. He lost about 20 percent of his business during three years of construction, but has since regained what he had lost and has seen a 20 percent surge.

“We like to call it the ‘money train,’ ” he said, chuckling.

While the line was being built, the street outside Jerry Blakey’s Lowertown Wine & Spirits was torn up 27 times. “Going through the process was touch-and-go here for six months. Fortunately, the neighbors kept us going,” said Blakey, a former City Council member.

Now, he added, “There should be a lot more people coming in. As much as we went through, it has to be a good thing.”

Amid the hoopla over connecting the downtowns, the Green Line’s service through Dinkytown and the University of Minnesota has been largely overlooked. For engineering researchers Matt Sheldon, Paul Diebold and Joe Vantassel, who boarded a westbound train at Stadium Village, practicality trumped history.

“I needed a new pair of workout shoes, so we’re going to the Mall of America,” said Sheldon, of Petaluma, Calif., who is studying earthquake-proof walls for the summer. He told his buddies where to switch trains at the Downtown East Station.

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