Efforts to help businesses prepare for and survive the construction of the Central Corridor light-rail line were on the agenda Tuesday for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell.
The 11-mile Central Corridor will link downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis, mostly following University Avenue. Heavy construction is set to begin in earnest next year. The $957 million line should be up and running in 2014.
Business owners worry about being able to make it through construction and losing parking once the line is complete. About 85 percent of all on-street parking along University in St. Paul will disappear. There are more than 2,000 businesses along the line.
Help business prepare for the line, survive the construction and thrive after its completion.
The Business Resources Collaborative -- a coalition of business groups, nonprofit community developers and local governments -- has created a resources clearinghouse and website for businesses. Low-cost services range from marketing to financial planning to advocacy.
A $1.5 million loan fund has been set up to help small businesses -- those that make $2 million or less -- cover expenses if they experience hardship during construction. The loan terms are 0 percent interest loans, payable over five years.
The Met Council is contributing $1 million, and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative is contributing $500,000. Details are being worked out, but loan awards would likely range from $6,000 to $10,000.
Bell, the Met Council chairman, conceded the $1.5 million loan fund is "inadequate" but added that it's a start. "We need to help businesses survive construction," he said.
"We know it's going to be a difficult process," Coleman said. He said St. Paul is dedicated to helping businesses.
Some are concerned the help isn't enough. Others, like Fre Haile and Shegitu Kebede, who opened Flamingo East African restaurant in January, are committed to staying on University.
"Even though construction will happen, we look at it as a challenge and an opportunity," Kebede said.
Mike Hatzistamoulos, owner of Best Steakhouse at Victoria Street and University, has been doing business on the avenue for 25 years and wants his 5-year-old grandson to be able to inherit the restaurant. He has already received money to fix his parking lot and got help with a website. "Whatever they have to offer, take advantage of it," is the advice he gives to other businesses.
Go to www.readyforrail.net.
Chris Havens • 612-673-4148