National Transit Conference attendees tour Northstar corridor

Rail~Volution conference attendees from around the United States and beyond explored transit-oriented development Sept. 21 in the Northstar Commuter Rail corridor. The mobile workshop in the 20th annual national transit conference attracted 30 people, representing several states, New Zealand, and local city and county representatives.

Transit leaders from Fort Worth, Boston and New Zealand were among the participants Sept. 21 on a Rail~Volution mobile workshop in the Northstar Commuter Rail corridor. Photo submitted
Transit leaders from Fort Worth, Boston and New Zealand were among the participants Sept. 21 on a Rail~Volution mobile workshop in the Northstar Commuter Rail corridor. Photo submitted

They boarded the train at Target Field Station and visited Ramsey, Anoka and Coon Rapids stations.

Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look told the participants that commuter rail was a catalyst for private development in the city of Ramsey. What had been a bean field is now downtown Ramsey.

“Investment in the rail stop is the carrot that will help build out a billion dollar tax base in Ramsey,” Look said. “About $13 million in local funds for the station has attracted $50 million in investments so far. That’s a good bang for the buck.”

At Ramsey, workshop participants toured the area around the station and heard from City Manager Kurt Ulrich and Community Development Director Tim Gladhill. They learned there are 700 housing units within a half mile of the station, plus retail, commercial and healthcare facilities.

In Anoka, Erik Thorvig, the city’s economic development manager, explained that Anoka’s experience with a rail station is different than Ramsey’s.

“Anoka is a historic town that dates back to the 1880s,” Thorvig said. “The railway is like our backyard.”

The city of Anoka has 100 acres planned for redevelopment around the station site, with some projects already completed or approved. They learned with the Volunteers of America senior housing project that it’s important to remain flexible when developing transit-oriented development.

Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte told participants that the city of Coon Rapids was developed primarily in the 1950s and 60s. A request for qualifications has just been released by Anoka County that will look for a developer to purchase and build housing on 15 acres next to the station.

“We expect the selected developer will require very little or no public assistance to complete the project,” Schulte said.

Workshop participants learned about train operations from John Paul Zanaska, director of commuter rail at Metro Transit. Marc Nevinski, community development director for Coon Rapids, also spoke to the group. Tim Yantos, executive director of the Anoka County Regional Railroad Authority, provided an overview of how the rail project was developed, starting with the formation of the Northstar Corridor Development Authority in 1997.

Participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to draw lessons from community leaders in the corridor.

More than 1,400 people attended Rail~Volution, Sept. 21 through Sept. 24. Approximately 80 workshops touch on all aspects of how transit can make a place better. Go to www.railvolution.org for more information.

About the Northstar Corridor

The Northstar Commuter Rail Line operated by Metro Transit, provides service on the 40-mile segment of existing track along highways 10 and 47 from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis.

Northstar trains offer commuter service during morning and evening weekday rush hours, as well as regular weekend service and some special event service.

The Northstar Corridor Development Authority is a joint powers board of governmental entities representing counties, cities, townships and regional railroad authorities along the Northstar Corridor, which covers an 80-mile stretch from downtown Minneapolis to St. Cloud.

For more information about Northstar train service, go to www.metrotransit.org/northstar. For more information about the Northstar Link Commuter Bus, which is operated by St. Cloud Metro Bus, go to www.CatchTheLink.com, or call 877.LINK.010.