Imagine a place where creativity sprouts alongside heavy industry, where artists and visionaries live and work among rumbling trains and trucks.
That is the future envisioned by the "West Midway Creative Enterprise Zone" task force that has come up with a plan to stoke the fate of the south St. Anthony Park neighborhood at the western end of University Avenue in St. Paul.
The area is one of the Twin Cities' crossroads because of the major roadways flowing in all directions. Soon the Central Corridor light rail line also will roll by to make the connection between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Those who work and live in the area aim through the plan to secure an identity, not become merely a roll-over neighborhood for the trains.
"The core of our vision is more people will make a living by their creative capacities," said Catherine Reid Day, a visual and media artist who led the arts task force that came up with the plan.
If it sounds a bit dreamy, the organizers don't disagree. The chaos that will be brought by light rail construction spurred them to create the plan. Whether they can land funding and make it real will be answered in the next few years.
Among their goals is to stabilize and nurture conditions that allow the melding of creative enterprises, businesses, artists, nonprofits and residents. The area already has some of St. Paul's most valuable land, thousands of jobs, hundreds of artists, small businesses and nonprofits.
About 22,000 people work at more than 1,200 companies in the area. The biggest employers are business service firms and wholesalers. There also are 101 nonprofits within half a mile of the planned Raymond Avenue light-rail station alone.
Artists began populating the area about 30 years ago, lured by cheap working space in old buildings. But the zone is about much more than art or south St. Anthony Park's viability. The bigger goal is to encourage big thinking and entrepreneurship as the global economy shifts.
"Manufacturing jobs are not coming back, and this has been a center for manufacturing," Reid said.
If the fanfare and abundant eats provided by nearby restaurants at a kickoff event last week are an indication, the group already has organizational and grass-roots strength. Mayor Chris Coleman stopped by to salute the spirit of the area.
Terri Banaszewski, vice president for business development at the Park Midway Bank, said construction congestion and lack of parking have made things difficult for businesses now, but that "People around the corridor are very interested in making sure these businesses survive. ... It's a rebirth of the avenue. It's going to be tumultuous. We'll have a couple of tough years."
Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749 Twitter: @rochelleolson