Representing more than a pretty color on a map, a Green Line linking Minnesota's two largest cities will bring significant new business opportunities to the east metro area, Washington County commissioners were told last week.
The 2014 opening of the Green Line light-rail train, previously known as Central Corridor, will pave the way for a greater balance of commercial development between east and west metro regions than what's been possible in the past, said Ryan O'Connor, policy and planning director for Ramsey County.
"East metro has some of the most sought-after development opportunities in the entire country," he said. "The goal is not to usurp west metro. It's trying to balance priorities."
Ramsey County's pitch to Washington County was the second attempt in a month to persuade commissioners to join East Metro Strong, a coalition that would include Dakota County. East Metro Strong seeks to respond to nationwide market trends that are skewing development toward regions that closely coordinate transportation investments — roads, bridges and transit, for example — with plans for economic and community development.
"I really believe there's a renaissance afoot," said Greg Watson, representing the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce. "We could see the need of a united partnership of business folks working toward the east metro getting their fair share."
East Metro Strong is seeking $750,000 in grant money from the McKnight Foundation to position the counties for greater economic prosperity.
Jim McDonough, a Ramsey County commissioner, said in an earlier presentation in Washington County that the tri-county region has major development opportunities: the former State Farm headquarters property in Woodbury, the Ford plant and Beacon Bluff redevelopment sites in St. Paul, the former ammunition plant in Arden Hills and, in Dakota County, the University of Minnesota Outreach, Research and Education (UMore) Park in Rosemount.
Washington County hasn't yet agreed to join the plan, although commissioners have indicated their strong interest in economic development and building business strength through alliances.
Commissioner Fran Miron said he preferred to see all business groups consulted about forming such an alliance — as opposed to only chambers of commerce — and he wanted to know what would happen once the grant money is spent in three years.
O'Connor replied that the grant money, if awarded, would build a foundation for a strong long-term alliance to make the east-metro area competitive in attracting businesses and jobs.
East-metro cities and counties have a strong interest in developing public transit once the Green Line opens at Union Depot in St. Paul and links to Minneapolis. It's envisioned that Union Depot will become a hub for new east-metro transit corridors, including the Gateway Corridor along Interstate 94 from St. Paul east to Woodbury's border with Afton.
Although very much in planning stages, two other routes are forthcoming in Washington County. Red Rock will run from St. Paul southeast through Newport and Cottage Grove. Rush Line will run from St. Paul northeast to Forest Lake.
No decisions were made in last week's meeting, which was a workshop intended to learn more about East Metro Strong.
"We finally learned what worked for the western half of the cities," Commissioner Ted Bearth said. "We stole their game plan. It's about time."