48 days until light rail service to St. Paul begins - FOX 32 News Chicago

48 days until light rail service to St. Paul begins

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The noise, dust, and orange construction cones have been around a long time, but businesses along University Avenue are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel with light rail service set to start soon.

In just 48 days, the trains will take to the tracks between Minneapolis and St. Paul, and many of the businesses that were able to survive and the program that made it possible.

At Big Daddy's, they serve up home-cooked barbecue -- but Bob and Ron admit they aren't as good at marketing, business planning, and other aspects of owning a restaurant. The eater was just starting to grow its brick-and-mortar location in 2007 when plans for the Green Line were made.

When construction started in March 2010, University Avenue transformed into a modern maze, and many area businesses took a big hit as customers detoured to avoid the construction or simply couldn't figure out where to go to find their favorite haunts.

Isabel Chanslor leads U-7, a group of 7 community organizations within the neighborhood development center. After more than 20 years of helping businesses in the Frogtown and University Avenue area, the groups have a rich history to celebrate.

To this day, business owners from just across the world make the area one of the most culturally rich retail strips in the state. The U-7 team wants to help foster that by helping hundreds of mom-and-pop shops there.

Using money from the city, private donations, and grants, U-7 created marketing plans, logos and exterior changes for businesses -- anything to help keep as many afloat as they could through the four long years of light rail construction.

Mary Kuria taught many business owners how to get their finances in order, and said many qualified for $20,000 forgivable loans. The owners of Big Daddy's used the help to add shared parking, a new patio, website and menu in an effort to combat the profits plummeting some 60%.

Yet, not all businesses could weather the extended construction. The U-7 team told Fox 9 News eight businesses had to close, but considering the 500 that were in jeopardy and still remain, the group considers the effort a success. Now, other cities are taking notice. Recently, community planners from Michigan traveled to see if a similar approach would work in Detroit.

Testing will wrap up by mid-June, and riders will be able to hitch a ride starting June 14.

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