Southwest light-rail planners looking for ways to cut the project’s burgeoning budget in recent weeks opted to save $70 million by drastically scaling back a big operations and maintenance facility planned for Hopkins.
The facility off Shady Oak Road was expected to employ 160 to 180 people and span 180,000 square feet — roughly the size of three football fields. Instead, a smaller 25,000-square-foot “rail support facility” will create 70 to 80 jobs not far from the planned Shady Oak LRT station.
“I have some sympathy for the city,” said Steve Elkins, a member of the Metropolitan Council who represents the Hopkins area. “The city made the sacrifice of jobs and tax base.”
Cuts were needed as Southwest’s budget surged to just over $2 billion, due to increases in labor, fuel and steel costs as well as unanticipated expenditures. Hennepin County will now ante up an additional $204 million to keep the line on track to begin passenger service between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie in 2023.
Eden Prairie lost out in 2015, the last time Southwest had to cut its budget. Planners dropped two stations there but later restored the Eden Prairie Town Center station near Eden Prairie Center mall after the city pledged its own money and won a federal grant. In paring back the planned operations and maintenance facility, Hopkins bore the brunt of the cuts this time, but officials are determined to make the best of it.
“We are still very supportive of the project and will continue to make the best of the situation we’re given,” said Kersten Elverum, Hopkins’ director of planning and development.
City officials in Hopkins had already embraced the Southwest project in a big way, encouraging transit-oriented development near the Blake Road and downtown Hopkins stops on the 14.5-mile line.
The Artery, a recently completed pedestrian and bike-friendly thoroughfare along 8th Avenue South, will connect the planned light-rail station to the city’s quaint downtown. Nearby, private developer Doran Cos. built the $50 million Moline Apartments, a luxury residential complex.
Near the planned Blake Road station, Elverum said, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and city received strong proposals to redevelop the Cold Storage industrial property.
Development near the planned Shady Oak station is a bit uncertain mostly because it is near an industrial park, Elverum said. Scaling back the operations and maintenance facility gives the city a chance to reconfigure a stormwater pond system, which could result in more development opportunities and parking near the station, she said.
The Met Council has already set in motion plans to purchase seven properties for the rail support facility, and has paid four businesses to relocate. Southwest spokeswoman Laura Baenen said “none of the parcels have been completely settled, so we cannot provide a dollar amount” spent for the properties. But she said all of them will still be needed for the scaled-back facility.
According to Hennepin County property records, the market value of the seven properties is about $13.5 million, generating $530,663 in annual tax revenue.
Most of the businesses slated for relocation for light rail have been shuttered at the Hopkins industrial park, their asphalt parking lots pocked with weeds here and there. Blinds have been drawn in the buildings, with phone books and newspapers carelessly tossed in their entryways.
“Please excuse our mess,” one notice taped on a door explains. “We’re moving!”