Mayor Coleman: Transitions: University Ave

An interview with St Paul Mayor Chris Coleman by Cherokee Christopher

Photos by: Anthony Em
Editing by: Anthony Em, Cherokee Christopher
Transcription by: Cherokee Christopher


Hello, my name is Cherokee Christopher and I’m a student at Gordon Parks High School. Can you tell me your name and your job title?

Hi Cherokee. I am Chris Coleman. I am the Mayor of the city of St. Paul.

What can you tell me about the history of University Avenue?

Well University Avenue was always the center — the street of commerce — in the city of St. Paul for many many years until they built the freeway. So it was the main route of traffic between Downtown St. Paul and Downtown Minneapolis. Unfortunately when the freeway was built a lot of the traffic was taken off of University Avenue and a lot of the businesses along there really struggled. And so it’s had its ups and downs and now with the light rail, it’s coming back.

Could you tell me, how has University Avenue changed over the years?

Well it’s changed partly because it didn’t become the center of movement for the cities, because all the traffic went over to the freeway, so it’s changed in some of the ways that — the old car dealerships that use to be there, those have gone away. Some of the main commerce hubs have moved out. But what’s interesting is it’s changed a little bit because you get a lot more restaurants and small business owners, particularly in the Southeast Asian community that has really been a piece of the development on the east side of the avenue. On the west side, you have a mix of interesting pieces, including the Oromo community that is now moving over to there, so it’s changed quite a bit.

Why is University Avenue so important to the St. Paul/Minneapolis area?

It’s really the heart and center of the town, and so there are a lot of neighborhoods, a lot of residents, right in and around that area. And it’s just — there are so many different pieces. There are a lot of employers along the corridor, you have the university, you have the connections to the two downtowns, you have the hospitals along the avenue, so it just becomes a really central gathering spot for people in this community.

In your opinion, how will the light rail affect the traffic of University Avenue?

Well, first of all it will really serve a lot of folks because —particularly because — we've added additional stops, it will be really the premier transportation mechanism in the Twin Cities. And so what we hope that will do is it will increase people’s use of transportation — public transportation — and hopefully will reduce the use of cars.

How will the parking issue be resolved for University Avenue businesses — or has the issue been resolved?

Well it’s been partly resolved because the spaces that were removed were removed a couple years ago, and so people have already figured out how to do things a little bit differently. And as the light rail line goes into operation and we see how people use it, and we see the affect of that transportation mechanism, there may be some changes that we can make in the future to adjust to the situation as it is right now.

Could you describe how the light rail will benefit the University Avenue neighborhood both economically and socially?

If you’re a business owner — particularly if you’re a restaurant and you’re near one of the stations — there will be a whole new customer base that will come onto the avenue. One of the things that we did was we rebuilt building facade to building facade — the sidewalks and the streets — and so just the avenue itself looks much better. You’re starting to see people invest in the facades of their buildings, so they look better. And you’re starting to see new investment that’s occurring alongside old investment on the avenue, so it’s already reshaping it even before the line opens.

The data I’ve seen has estimated the cost of the Central Corridor Light Rail to be around 950 million dollars. Do you think the total cost of the light rail was worth it?

I think it was worth it because, first of all, it will transform that avenue, and we’ll see many more times that investment in private investment on the avenue — so, new housing, new businesses etc. Plus, if you’re gonna have a first class community, you have to have a first class transportation system. And so we’re very excited and think that — yep — even though that’s a big-ticket item, it was definitely worth it.

Made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.