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Pete, left, and Mike LaTuff “never considered moving.”

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Inside Track: St. Paul's Central Corridor businesses gear up for a revival

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY
  • Star Tribune
  • September 14, 2013 - 9:14 PM

Pete Latuff and cousin Mike Latuff are co-owners of 80-year-old Latuff Brothers Auto Body at 880 W. University Av. in St. Paul.

Down the block, Mike Hatzistamoulos, the 27-year owner of Best Steak House, has just remodeled, upgrading windows and refreshing the interior.

These two venerable businesses survived the Central Corridor light-rail construction project of the last couple of years that runs from Washington Avenue S. in Minneapolis, down University Avenue and to the State Capitol and St. Paul’s Union Depot. Although the construction will continue into 2014, most of the work has been completed.

“Our business was down about 24 percent in 2012,” Pete Latuff said. “University Avenue, in front of our shop, reopened last November … and different parts of it were closed for about two years and it was tough to tell customers how to get to us. Traffic is now back on the avenue and 2013 has been a really good year. It’s heading for [record revenue].

“I never considered moving. We’re a St. Paul company. Always on University. Usually expanding. We’ve got 25 employees and we made an in-house decision to lay off nobody, no matter how bad it got. Most have been with us for more than 10 years, some 20. I don’t know how LRT will affect our business or car traffic, but we’re hoping to pick up more people from the University of Minnesota area who will just hop on the train and go to work.”

Sunday, Latuff is opening its parking lot to visitors and Best Steak will be serving free snacks outside and a full menu inside as part of “St. Paul Open Streets,” an inaugural showcasing of a couple miles worth of businesses, libraries, schools, cultural groups, restaurants and others along a 2.3 mile stretch of the Central Corridor light rail. The activities will range from multiple stages and musical acts, to transportation demonstrations, bike clinics, group yoga and Zumba classes, kids activities and a farmers market and cooking ­demonstrations.

The Metropolitan Council, which is overseeing the Central Corridor projects, reports that 122 businesses opened along the full route, 90 closed, 24 moved within the corridor and 27 moved elsewhere during construction. About 1,400 businesses are along the 11.2-mile ­Central Corridor. The council estimates that $1.7 billion in new private development is complete or underway along the entire Green Line route that will extend from Target Field in Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul.

More information at www.stpaulopenstreets.org.

Xcel gets support for big wind buy

Xcel Energy’s proposal to dramatically increase its wind power in the Midwest is a good deal, according to a government analysis.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce, which analyzes utility investments on behalf of consumers, last week endorsed Minneapolis-based Xcel’s plan to add four large wind farms in Minnesota and North Dakota. The plan is pending before state utility regulators.

“Under every scenario the wind additions are cost-effective,” said department analysts who ran the numbers through a financial model.

Xcel hasn’t publicly revealed the estimated cost of the wind farms announced in July and August, but the department said the price is under 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, including a federal tax credit. That beats prices for any other new generation in a recent U.S. Energy Information Administration analysis.

Xcel CEO Ben Fowke has said the new wind power over its 20-year life is cheaper than buying natural gas and burning it in existing power plants.

David Shaffer

SHORT TAKES

• In 1988, businessman Tom Warth started sending books to African schoolchildren, the origins of St. Paul-based Books For Africa (BFA), which celebrates its 25th anniversary next weekend. It will feature a gala at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul, a Minnesota Trade Office conference on doing business in Nigeria and a warehouse party. BFA has become the largest shipper of donated text and library books to Africa. In 2012, BFA, backed by businesses and individuals, shipped 2.2 million books valued at $28.3 million to 22 African countries. It also sent 616 computers and created 15 new law libraries thanks to Thomson Reuters, the publisher of Westlaw. Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General, a Macalester College graduate and honorary co-chair of BFA’s Jack Mason Law and Democracy Initiative, said recently of BFA’s work: “In the 21st century more than ever before, the natural resource which matters most is the talent of a nation’s citizens. Education is the key to unlocking this potential. Literacy is the bridge from misery to hope.” More information on the Sept. 20-21 events at www.booksforafrica.org and www.exportminnesota.com.

• Sara Gavin, long time head of the Weber Shandwick Minneapolis office, has been named president of the global public relations firm’s North American offices. Gavin, a 30-year veteran, was a co-founder of predecessor firm Mona, Meyer, McGrath & Gavin. She will have responsibility for the firm’s 23 offices in the U.S. and Canada. Gavin will continue to work from the Bloomington office.

• Grace Church of Eden Prairie is saving more than $100,000 annually in utility charges as a result of a $182,000 makeover in partnership with Maple Grove-based building-automation contractor Uhl Company and Xcel Energy. Uhl implemented several energy conservation measures, including occupancy sensors on HVAC equipment, in the huge, 343,000-square foot facility that enabled it to qualify for $38,000 in Xcel rebates and a quick, 18-month payback period.

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