By Bill Clements
Dolan Media Newswires
Minneapolis — The Metropolitan Council has awarded the first major heavy construction contract for the Central Corridor Light Rail line — a $205 million contract for the eastern or St. Paul portion of the project, which covers seven miles of the 11-mile transit line.
The contract will go to Chicago-based Walsh Construction — once the Federal Transit Administration gives the light rail project its final approval in the form of a “final full-funding grant agreement,” which means the feds will pay half of the project’s cost.
Construction on the eastern portion is expected to begin in August at Robert and 12th streets north of I-94 near the state Capitol, according to the Met Council.
Bids for the heavy construction work on the light rail project’s western or Minneapolis portion will be opened July 27. The Met Council is scheduled to award that contract Aug. 25.
In addition, the council authorized Chairman Peter Bell and Regional Administrator Tom Weaver to negotiate with the city of St. Paul a joint powers agreement to govern an account to help restore some of the losses that businesses along the transit line may encounter during construction of the project.
The process of establishing the business loan program is in the early stages — early enough that the program doesn’t yet have an official name.
The loan program aims “to help provide a modest ‘safety net’ for small businesses that undertake advance business planning for the CCLRT project but still experience significant loss of sales due to more limited customer access” during construction, according to a Met Council staff report.
The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, which is made up of several private foundations, is mulling whether to contribute $500,000 to the loan program, said the Collaborative’s executive director, Jonathan Sage-Martinson.
The Met Council has promised to put $1 million into the loan program, but the loans will not be forgivable — a move that disappointed those organizing the loan program.
“We were hoping (the loans) would be forgivable,” said Nancy Homans, policy director in the office of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Now, the loans are recourse loans: If a business that gets one defaults, St. Paul would be on the hook to repay the loan to the Met Council.
Still, Homans said, organizers behind the loan program are grateful to have money on the table to kick things off.
“The next step is actually to design the program and figure out who will administer it,” Homans said.
In its current form, the proposed joint powers agreement anticipates that interest-free loans made with money that the Met Council provided would be repayable on a deferred basis for a loan period developed by the parties to the joint powers agreement, according to the Met Council staff report.