Rebecca Spartz wants to do her part for the environment and feel engaged in her community. So instead of driving to work alone, she likes to ride her bike, hop on the bus or take the METRO Blue Line to get to the office.
Those alternatives are now easier than ever. In July, the company she works for, Touchstone Mental Health, moved into a new location on the METRO Blue Line. The building is less than two blocks south of the Franklin Avenue Station along the Hiawatha LRT Trail.
“I was psyched about moving here,” Spartz said during a recent visit to the office. “Compared to a year ago, when I really wasn’t doing this at all, this feels awesome.”
Spartz’s experience is precisely what Touchstone leaders were looking for when they chose to partner with local developers Project for Pride in Living (PPL) and Seward Redesign to locate on the METRO Blue Line. PPL owns and manages the building.
After using space in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Touchstone moved to its 2312 Snelling Ave. site in June. In the new location, many of its more than 60 employees are riding the bus, taking the train or using Northstar Commuter Rail to get to work.
The stress-free commuting options make perfect sense for an organization committed to mental health and wellness (services provided at the building include healing touch, massage therapy, acupuncture and other treatments as part of a holistic, integrative approach to wellness).
“The idea of staff wellness is hugely important,” said Jessica Ryan, Touchstone’s development director. “When we looked at locations, it [transit] was definitely taken into consideration.”
But the location doesn’t just benefit employees.
Attached to Touchstone’s new Community Health and Wellness Center is a 40-unit supportive-housing building. The Rising Cedar Apartments – already more than half full – are occupied by residents living with mental illnesses.
Touchstone counselor Rachael Sarto said the proximity to the Blue Line will be critical for residents looking to achieve life goals and increase independence. Nearly two-thirds of those living at Rising Cedar Apartments do not own a vehicle, she said.
Sarto said the proximity to the Blue Line will provide residents with convenient and affordable access to downtown Minneapolis, where they can visit case managers or simply enjoy the city, and serve as a critical connection to jobs, school and shopping.
“If you can imagine someone living on a limited budget, this [transit access] really allows them to use those funds for other things that are important to their lives,” she said.
In the future, Touchstone’s Community Health and Wellness Center will host more community events and provide services to a growing number of clients, bringing even more people to their doors via transit.
Touchstone’s building is also part of a larger transit-oriented development plan undertaken by Minneapolis-based Seward Redesign and called Seward Commons. Plans call for a mix of housing, retail and office space across the 4-acre site with strong transit, bike and pedestrian connections.
Brian Miller, Seward Redesign’s executive director, said the next project will be a 60-unit senior housing development where residents are expected to live largely car-free. St. Paul-based CommonBond Communities is partnering with Seward Redesign on the development, expected to be under construction this fall and open within a year.
The Metropolitan Council contributed a $1.1 million grant to assist with the reconstruction of streets around the Seward Commons redevelopment and awarded a $150,000 grant to aid the new senior housing project.