Jim Ivey has always owned a vehicle. But lately, it’s not serving much of a purpose.
That’s because the Lowertown resident has largely given up on driving, choosing instead to get around by using transit, HOURCAR and Nice Ride. Soon, there will be another way for him to travel – the METRO Green Line.
Ivey lives and works just a few blocks from the Green Line’s Union Depot Station and plans to use the train to get to appointments on University Avenue, visit the State Capitol and make short trips in downtown St. Paul.
“Paying 50 cents to step on and step off right where I need to be is going to be really nice,” Ivey said, referring to the Green Line’s Downtown Zone between Union Depot and Capitol/Rice Street stations.
Ivey isn’t alone in looking forward to the Green Line. Across Lowertown, residents, business owners and organizations are anxiously awaiting the site of in-service light rail trains at Union Depot Station.
The Green Line’s eastern terminus, the station sits on the south side of East Fourth Street outside the Union Depot. The 1926 train station recently underwent a $243 million renovation and is owned by Ramsey County.
Caitlin Marlotte, the manager of community engagement for Twin Cities Public Television, said the Green Line will have an “immediate positive impact” by giving the station’s 200-plus employees a new way to get to work.
But the addition of light-rail will also allow TPT to open itself to the community in new ways. TPT’s studios are less than a block west of Union Depot Station, so visitors can easily take the train to visit for live tapings and other events. One of TPT’s public events is a series featuring Minnesota musicians called Lowertown Line, a name inspired by the Green Line.
“We really want to be able to invite the public into our station,” Marlotte said. “Having public transit that drops people off at Union Depot just a block away will be a big benefit for us.”
The Green Line will also be a boost to the community of artists who have taken up residency in the refurbished loft spaces surrounding Union Depot Station.
Linda Snyder and Valerie Anderson opened their store, Three Sisters, across from Union Depot a year ago and hope visitors will step off the train and through their doors. The store sells work from more than 80 Minnesota artists.
“We absolutely see people coming from Minneapolis over to St. Paul and they’re going to be getting off right here,” Snyder said. “We think it’s really going to benefit our business.”
Next door, Andrew Rist sees the Green Line as a clear advantage for the 200-plus dancers who rehearse in Ballet Minnesota's first-floor studio space.
"It's always that problem of getting here," said Rist, who has been in Lowertown for nearly 30 years. "Light rail, when it's up-and-running, is going to make things a lot easier."
The combination of a strong arts community and transit led Bedlam Lowertown leaders to their space across from Union Depot Station, opening in April.
Venue Director Lucas Koski said Bedlam’s previous location near the METRO Blue Line’s Cedar- Riverside Station showed what kind of impact locating near transit can have. For some performances, more than 100 bikes would be parked at Bedlam, many of them brought by light-rail.
“One of the main caveats when we were looking for a new location is that we needed the train to be accessible,” he said. “The train offers more reliability and intersects nicely with bike culture. If you can bike to a station then you can come to us pretty easily.”
The nearby Union Depot’s connecting bus service is another plus, since it allows many of Bedlam’s guests and workers a one-seat ride to the location, said Koski, who travels to St. Paul on Route 21.
While Three Sisters, Bedlam and others hope transit provides year-round foot traffic, light rail will also be an important piece of events such as the St. Paul Farmer’s Market, Northern Spark, First Fridays and the Saint Paul Art Crawl, which will be held next month.
Tom Reynen, who helps organize the Saint Paul Arts Crawl and is a board member at the AZ Gallery, said parking has always been an intimidating challenge when trying to draw people to the event. But with the convenience of light rail, he expects to draw in more people from outside the area.
“There is a lot packed into Lowertown so we’re looking at light rail as a way to handle all that growth by giving people a way to get here without having to drive,” he said.
While the Green Line won’t be in service in time for the Saint Paul Art Crawl, Metro Transit is offering free rides to this year's event, which runs April 26-27.
Leaders at the St. Paul Farmer's Market also believe that transit -- both bus and rail -- can help attract more people to their popular summer markets, which draw nearly 18,000 people each weekend. The market is just a block east of Union Depot Station, making it easy for people to visit and leave with a small amount of produce, flowers or other goods.
"Really where our emphasis is going to be in the next two years is getting people to change their habits," said Jack Gerten, market director.
The St. Paul Saints are also hoping fans will turn to transit when the team moves from the Midway to Lowertown next season.
Just two blocks east of Union Depot Station, the ballpark is expected to attract around 400,000 people annually. More than a third of fans are expected to use transit to get to games, said Annie Huidekoper, the Saint’s vice-president of community partnerships and community service.
“It’s all part of the dynamic, engaging nature of Lowertown and we just can’t wait to be a part of it,” she said.
The Green Line’s June 14 opening is particularly poignant to Don Ball, a founder of the shared workspace CoCo. CoCo’s St. Paul location, located immediately north of Union Depot Station, opened on the exact day light-rail construction began.
Ball said watching construction unfold has led him and others there to become “quite invested” in the project, which will provide an easy connection to its other location in downtown Minneapolis.
“That goes a long way to shrinking the distance between our two cities and opens up all sorts of possibilities,” he said. “We hope that it lets more of our members ditch their cars and take to the rails.”
Union Depot Station At a Glance
Connecting bus routes: Route 21, with service to the Green Line’s Hamline Avenue and Snelling Avenue stations and the Lake Street corridor in Minneapolis; Route 53, with limited-stop service on Snelling and Marshall avenues in St. Paul and Lake Street in Minneapolis; Route 54, with limited-stop service on West 7th Street to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport; Route 94, with express service to downtown Minneapolis (effective June 16); Route 262, with limited-stop service on Rice Street between the 95th Avenue Park & Ride and downtown St. Paul; Route 417, with service to Mendota Heights; Route 480, with express service to Apple Valley and Eagan (operated by Minnesota Valley Transit Authority); Route 484 and Route 489 with express service to Eagan (operated by MVTA). Jefferson Lines and Megabus serve Union Depot and Amtrak passenger rail service is scheduled to arrive later this year.
Public art: The station will feature large carved black granite wheels that mimic those found on Great Northern’s Oriental Limited and Empire Builder trains. A stack of wheels used by transit vehicles in the corridor will be installed this spring (similar work is featured at the Green Line’s Westgate Station). The pieces were designed and created by Andrea Myklebust and Stanton Sears. Learn more.
Area landmarks: Union Depot, St. Paul Farmer’s Market, Mears Park, Lowertown Ballpark (under construction and opening in 2015) , CoCo St. Paul, Twin Cities Public Television, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Bike-ped connections: Off-street bike paths line each bank of the nearby Mississippi River. The Bruce Vento Regional Trail, which starts at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, will be extended through Lowertown along Prince Street to terminate at Broadway and Prince streets. There Nice Ride kiosks at Union Depot.
Neighborhood groups: CapitolRiver Council, Lowertown Entertainment District, Lowertown Landing