The Saint Paul Art Train

Craig Blakely
by Craig Blakely | Apr 01, 2013
| 18 Comments
Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
Forever Saint Paul Challenge competition.

Summary:

The Creative Enterprise Zone encourages the growth of creative enterprises in the West Midway Industrial District (WMID). But because creative enterprises need smaller spaces, they can often afford to pay higher square-foot rents, and are therefore competing directly for space with light industrial tenants, which provide entry-level, living wage jobs for inner-city residents without college degrees. This can further widen the race, class, and place gaps between the inner city and the suburbs, which the 2005 Mind the Gap report identified as a threat to the economic health of the region. The Art Train will help close the gap by demonstrating the feasibility of developing new creative space in recycled passenger rail cars permanently affixed to abandoned railroad spurs in the public right-of-way. Costs would be kept low because no land would be acquired and surplus passenger cars could be purchased and moved by rail to the site relatively cheaply. The main expense would be upgrading the electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems and connecting them to utilities, making the rail cars handicap-accessible, and improving the parking and the pedestrian environment in the area. The initial phase would provide about 3,000 sq. ft. of exciting but affordable incubator space in a unique location for a variety of creative and artistic enterprises in 3 converted passenger cars and 1 dining car or caboose converted into a restaurant or coffee-shop somewhere on surplus tracks in the Raymond Station Area. If this phase demonstrates the feasibility, future phases could develop on other abandoned sidings.The Art Train will act as a bridge between the 20th century light industrial economy and the 21st century creative enterprise economy that helps preserve entry-level industrial jobs, embodies the railroad origins of the area, and helps brand the entire district as an exciting place to do business in the regional economic development marketplace.

Amended: Exact Art Train location TBD.

About You

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About You

First Name

Craig

Last Name

Blakely

City

Saint Paul

County

USA

Country

United States, MN

Website (if you have one)

Names of others who helped contribute to my idea

How did you hear about the Forever Saint Paul Challenge?

Email.

About Your Organization (if applicable)

Organization Name (if applicable)

Saint Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development

Organization Website

Organization Phone

Organization Address

25 West 4th St., Suite 1300

City

Saint Paul

Organization Country

United States, MN

Your idea

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Title of your idea

The Saint Paul Art Train

Give us the highlights of your idea for making Saint Paul great (2,000 characters maximum or approx. 250 words)

The Creative Enterprise Zone encourages the growth of creative enterprises in the West Midway Industrial District (WMID). But because creative enterprises need smaller spaces, they can often afford to pay higher square-foot rents, and are therefore competing directly for space with light industrial tenants, which provide entry-level, living wage jobs for inner-city residents without college degrees. This can further widen the race, class, and place gaps between the inner city and the suburbs, which the 2005 Mind the Gap report identified as a threat to the economic health of the region. The Art Train will help close the gap by demonstrating the feasibility of developing new creative space in recycled passenger rail cars permanently affixed to abandoned railroad spurs in the public right-of-way. Costs would be kept low because no land would be acquired and surplus passenger cars could be purchased and moved by rail to the site relatively cheaply. The main expense would be upgrading the electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems and connecting them to utilities, making the rail cars handicap-accessible, and improving the parking and the pedestrian environment in the area. The initial phase would provide about 3,000 sq. ft. of exciting but affordable incubator space in a unique location for a variety of creative and artistic enterprises in 3 converted passenger cars and 1 dining car or caboose converted into a restaurant or coffee-shop somewhere on surplus tracks in the Raymond Station Area. If this phase demonstrates the feasibility, future phases could develop on other abandoned sidings.The Art Train will act as a bridge between the 20th century light industrial economy and the 21st century creative enterprise economy that helps preserve entry-level industrial jobs, embodies the railroad origins of the area, and helps brand the entire district as an exciting place to do business in the regional economic development marketplace.
Amended: Exact Art Train location TBD.

Website address (if applicable)

Innovation

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What makes your idea different or unexpected? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

The Art Train is a classic example of how what are problems when seen through the eyes of the existing paradigm can become opportunities when seen through the eyes of a new paradigm, and how integrating apparently different and unrelated efforts can leverage enormous energy and achieve more sustainable results.

A. Old problems and paradigms: The Art Train will address two fundamental problems which the old paradigm, with stand-alone agencies reacting independently to identified problems, can’t resolve. The first is the need to preserve light industrial jobs, which are the foundation of the economic competitiveness of the region and the ladder of opportunity for those without college degrees. Appropriately-zoned industrial properties are increasingly threatened by conversion into residential and office uses, and strategies need to be developed to preserve them. The second problem is the need to improve the public right-of-way in the WMID. Many streets have no curbs, boulevards, or sidewalks and, because they lack public pedestrian infrastructure, much of the public right-of-way has been appropriated for private uses like parking and loading, increasing the risk that the City will lose it through adverse possession. And some streets have little-used or abandoned railroad spurs in the right-of-way which have become a visual blight and a safety hazard, increasing the risk that the City will lose this part of its railroad heritage.

B. New paradigms and possibilities: The Art Train is part of a paradigm shift that will engage separate agencies in a proactive effort intended to turn problems into opportunities by integrating the efforts and leveraging the investments of a variety of private, public, and nonprofit initiatives in order to ease the transition to a new economy in a way that will make the area more competitive in the regional marketplace without sacrificing light industrial jobs or stifling the growth of creative enterprise jobs. Some of the related revitalization efforts it will help implement are:

• Recent industrial strategies: The City has just completed the West Midway Industrial Strategy and the Port Authority has just completed an Industrial Strategy for the City of St. Paul, both of which recommend preserving light industrial space. If the first phase demonstrates its feasibility, other Art Trains could be developed on other surplus rail spurs, and they could become the signature identifier and marketing theme for the entire WMID.

• The Creative Enterprise Zone: Because the St. Anthony Park Community Council wants to foster the growth of creative enterprises in the area, it is sponsoring the Creative Enterprise Zone initiative, which is not yet embodied in a physical location. The Art Train will become its tangible center.

• The Heritage Preservation Commission: While only part of the WMID is included within the boundaries of the University-Raymond Historic District, the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission seeks to interpret and preserve the railroad heritage of the whole area. The Art Train will do so by permanently locating rolling stock on abandoned railroad spurs somewhere on surplus tracks in the Raymond Station Area.

• The 2010 Bike/Walk Central Corridor Action Plan: The first step in implementing this plan will be taken this summer when Public Works implements the first phase of its Sidewalk Infill Program to improve the pedestrian environment in the West Midway. The Art Train will help implement this plan by accepting the Minnesota Commercial Railway’s offer to vacate most of their tracks in Charles Street, and by reclaiming for public use the parking that has been appropriated for private use in the public right-of-way on the north side of Charles Street. A final step will be to develop an elevated, handicap-accessible boardwalk running along the south side of The Art Train in the block between Hampden Avenue and Pillsbury Street.

Impact

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This Entry is about (Issues)

How will your idea make a difference in Saint Paul? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

The Art Train will make a difference in St. Paul in four ways.

A. It will preserve light industrial space: The Art Train is intended to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of developing about 3,000 sq. ft. of new space in its first phase. If successful, a second phase could develop 8 more cars on 2 blocks farther east on Charles, for a total of 12 cars with about 10,000 sq. ft. of new creative enterprise space. While an exact inventory of surplus railroad sidings in the WMID doesn’t exist, and will depend on how many customers continue to need rail access and for how long, the Minnesota Commercial Railway has demonstrated a willingness to reduce its liability by donating surplus railroad spurs to the City, which eliminates an enormous potential barrier. A rough estimate is that more than 96,000 linear feet of additional trackage may become available in the future, which could accommodate 113 more 85’ long rail cars, for a total of 125 cars comprising roughly 106,000 sq. ft. of new creative enterprise space. This is enough to significantly lessen competition by creative enterprises for the existing industrial space.

B. It will provide new creative enterprise space: It is also enough new space to support a critical mass of creative enterprises in affordable, highly visible, and highly desirable space. The 850 sq. ft. of each rail car is ideally suited for artists, architects, advertising agencies, consultancies, and other creative and information-intensive tenants. Though Art Trains will be on scattered sites, the railroad cars will make the railroad history and infrastructure visible, and become a unifying theme for the entire West Midway Industrial District. By developing the first phase in the public right of way in Charles Street between Hampden and Pillsbury, The Art Train has the potential to become the “village square” of the Creative Enterprise Zone, and the dining car or caboose has the potential to become an incubator for the small industry of food trucks that has grown up recently, as a new food truck is invited to set up shop in the caboose each week in the summer.

C. It will improve and protect the public right-of-way: By integrating with other existing efforts to improve the pedestrian and parking infrastructure and to protect the public right-of-way, The Art Train will also result in significant improvements to the appearance, safety, and accessibility of the area. Because the north side of Charles Street has been appropriated by property owners for private parking, an essential part of the project will be to reassert the City’s ownership by managing that resource as public parking to support the greater parking demand generated by The Art Train. To help the owners north and south of Charles make that transition, the Project will improve on- and off-street parking resources in the area. The Project would also install as much landscaping as possible to green up the corner, which would be designed as a flexible space that could be used for Creative Enterprise Zone festivals on weekends when parking demand in the area drops. Finally, the 8’ wide boardwalk that will provide handicap accessibility along the south side of The Art Train will be landscaped with ornamental grass.

D. It will brand the West Midway Industrial District in the regional marketplace: Even in its first phase, the Art Train has the potential to make the entire West Midway Industrial District more economically competitive by branding it in the regional – and even national – marketplace, and to that end, marketing materials will be prepared for the Creative Enterprise Zone in general and The Art Train in particular.

Sustainability

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Why do you think people will recognize or remember your idea after it comes to life? How might it inspire others to do something similar in their community? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

Sustainability is often defined by the “three Rs” – reduce, reuse, and recycle. This project will reduce costs by avoiding any land acquisition expenses and reduce competition by creative enterprises for valuable light industrial space. It will reuse abandoned railroad spurs. And it will recycle surplus rail cars into exciting new space for creative enterprises. On top of this, it will make St. Paul more economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. If The Art Train proves to be successful, there are other similar industrial areas around the State and around the country that were developed with rail access where abandoned spurs are still connected to the rail network where similar Art Trains could be developed. And there are many other cities that, recognizing the need to preserve light industrial space, might be interested in a transitional strategy like The Art Train that can act as a bridge between the light industrial and creative enterprise economies.

A. Economic Sustainability: Using conservative assumptions (e.g. build-out runs $100/sq. ft., 80% of the construction costs translate into assessed value, and one job is created for each 333 sq. ft. of gross space), a fully-developed network of 125 Art Trains in the West Midway has the potential to add over $8 million to the tax base, to generate over $½ million a year in new taxes on land that is currently tax exempt, and to generate over 300 new jobs a block or two away from a light rail stop. The Art Train seeks to become sustainable by avoiding subsidizing creative enterprises by curating them instead. That means that the Creative Enterprise Zone will consciously seek out tenants who stand to benefit the most from the visibility of the location, who provide a good balance to each other, and who also have the potential to grow over time to where they can pay the market rents needed to maintain The Art Train. While rents may start out low, they will gradually increase over time in the expectation that, with their identity and customer base firmly established in the regional marketplace, the tenants can afford to move to a new location, making room for a new creative enterprise on the cusp of breaking into the market.

B. Environmental Sustainability: Reusing the existing railroad infrastructure and rolling stock will reduce the carbon footprint of the development. Because the ground under railroad tracks and in industrial areas is often contaminated (by creosote, solvents, and nearby industrial processes), The Art Train will seek to disturb as little of the soil as possible, to encapsulate what remains, and to develop low-impact landscaping like ornamental grasses that will grow through the fence on the south side of the boardwalk. These will be planted in concrete trenches built into the boardwalk, watered by gutters that capture all of the rainwater falling on The Art Train roofs.

C. Social Sustainability: The Art Train will “Mind the Gap,” to coin a phrase, by preserving light industrial jobs accessible by light rail to an inner city workforce and providing exposure of a wide range of entrepreneurs – some of whom will be food truck vendors setting up shop in the dining car or caboose – to a regional marketplace. It is also intended to defuse the social conflict between the residential and industrial interests in St. Anthony Park by providing a way to promote the growth of creative enterprises while preserving light industrial enterprises and the jobs they create. It will also improve the pedestrian and handicap-accessible environment by providing an attractive boardwalk that is separated from the trucks and cars on Charles Street.

Additonal Questions

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For your idea, what does success look like? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

A. Developing other phases of The Art Train: The success of The Art Train demonstration project will be easily measured by whether it is technically and economically feasible to develop other phases on the tracks farther east on Charles Street and on other surplus railroad spurs in the West Midway Industrial District. While the Forever St. Paul Grant will cover the initial extraordinary start-up costs, where new ground is being broken because there is no model to be replicated, it is expected that resolving the organizational and technical barriers will reduce the costs of future phases to the point where private developers will be interested in building them, and private bankers will be interested in financing them. The way to measure success, then, will be whether subsequent phases are developed with smaller amounts of subsidy until they can be financed without foundation or public grants.

B. Moving up to a sufficient scale to make a difference: The Art Train is not intended to be a symbolic exercise. When its subsequent phases are developed it should build enough new creative enterprise space, and protect enough light industrial space from conversion to residential and office uses, to make a real difference. While the measure of success for the first phase will be whether a 4-car Art Train is developed between Hampden and Pillsbury, and the measure of success for the second phase will be whether 8 additional cars of the Art Train are developed on publicly-owned rails between Pillsbury and Transfer, the long-term success of the Art Train will be measured by whether about 100,000 sq. ft. of creative enterprise space is developed in Art Trains around the West Midway Industrial District.

C. Improving the public right of way: The Art Train is intended to integrate with other efforts to improve and reclaim the public right of way in the WMID, including the Bike/Walk Central Corridor Action Plan, and the Sidewalk Infill Program. As such, it will perhaps become the most visible of the three efforts, and the one most likely to demonstrate that the long-term benefits of improving the pedestrian realm on public land in the West Midway outweigh the costs in terms of lost private parking. The measure of this success will be getting the owners of industrial properties who have encroached on the public way to acknowledge the City’s ownership, to accept the inevitability of its reclamation, and to willingly participate in improving the public and private environment to make the entire area safer, more attractive, and more accessible.

D. Creating a regional identity for the West Midway Industrial District: The success of this goal may be harder to measure, but if The Art Train proves to be successful by the measures described above and other phases are developed that create a critical mass of creative enterprises in an improved public and private environment, it is expected that The Art Train will become the signature identity for the entire district, one that will make all of the properties more marketable. And the dining car or caboose connected to the Art Train boardwalk, will become the center of the Saint Paul Creative Enterprise Zone.

What are the top three things that would likely need to happen in the first year to get your idea started? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

A. Get site control and community support: Since the site has multiple owners and interested parties, getting site control will be complicated.

• Get Minnesota Commercial Railway to donate their tracks: They are willing to give the City most of their tracks in Charles Street, which removes a huge roadblock.

• Get Public Works to accept the tracks: They will need to accept ownership of the tracks and allow the continued use of head-in parking on the north side of Charles while managing it as a public resource.

• Secure the consent of the owners on the north side of Charles: Since part of this Project will involve the City reclaiming its right-of-way, these owners will be asked to support its reclamation for public use.

• Identify an organization with the real estate expertise to manage it.

• Secure community support: The St. Anthony Park Community Council will need to formally approve the concept and whatever variances are needed to get it to fit into the Zoning and building codes.

B. Create a legal and an organizational framework: Since The Art Train will be a public-private-nonprofit partnership, its legal and organizational framework will be similarly complicated.

• The Grantee: The recipient of the grant must be a nonprofit with appropriate skills needed to undertake this complex job. Since most of the property is City-owned, it might be an appropriate grantee.

• Legal agreements: Many legal agreements need to be negotiated, including grant agreements, long term leases of the tracks, short-term leases of the rail cars, easements, and maintenance agreements. The Art Train will likely pose novel challenges for existing zoning and building codes that will require imagination and persistence to resolve.

C. Develop detailed designs and specs: Dozens of novel design and technical issues need to be resolved and detailed cost estimates prepared.

• Acquiring the railroad cars: Cars older than 50 years require incredibly expensive modifications to ship by rail, so they all have to be more recent than that. Preliminary estimates are that passenger cars less than 50 years old can be bought and delivered for $50,000 each.

• Connecting the utilities: The DC electrical system will have to be replaced, the HVAC system upgraded, and all of it insulated to keep pipes from freezing during the winter.

• Renovating the rail cars: The seats and overhead luggage racks will be removed by the vendor, but the interiors will need to be renovated to allow flexible use of the space. The exteriors will need to be painted, which can be a creative enterprise in its own right.

• Developing the boardwalk: With a floor height a little over 4’, and about 9’ between the train and the property line to the south, The Art Train will need ramps at each end leading up to a boardwalk to make them accessible.

• Parking improvements: Because The Art Train will increase parking demand, and reclaim public parking from private use, parking improvements will need to be made to a couple of private parking lots.

• Choosing a developer: Sometime in the first year, a developer needs to be selected, a fee agreed upon, and the process started that will transform this corner of the Raymond Station Area into a regionally-competitive center for creative enterprises.

Which organizations, groups, and/or people might be involved in implementing your idea? Why do you think they would be a good fit? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

Because The Art Train cuts across so many public, private, nonprofit, and community interests, the partnership that implements it will have to be similarly broad.

A. Saint Paul Design Center: This program of the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation has provided design services to help mitigate the disruption caused by light rail development and to encourage the developments leveraged by light rail to achieve the highest possible design standards. They have already explored some of the design challenges posed by The Art Train and produced conceptual drawings.

B. St. Anthony Park Community Council: This district council represents two distinctly different neighborhoods: the primarily residential neighborhood north and west of the main line railroad tracks, and a mixed residential, industrial, and commercial neighborhood south of the tracks, including the West Midway Industrial District. Because of the diversity of their neighborhood, they have been deeply involved in both developing the West Midway Industrial Strategy and the Creative Enterprise Zone initiative. As the City-recognized citizen participation organization, their support for the land use decisions involved in developing The Art Train is essential.

C. Creative Enterprise Zone: The St. Anthony Park Community Council acts as the fiscal agent and provides some part time staff, but the board of the Creative Enterprise Zone provides the energy that drives it. They initially support the concept, and are eager to become more intimately involved. Their long-term role is expected to be as curators of the creative enterprise businesses chosen as tenants in The Art Train.

D. St. Paul Public Works: They are implementing the Sidewalk Infill Program to improve pedestrian infrastructure in the WMID. They will need to be willing to accept ownership of the unused rail spur from the Minnesota Commercial Railway.

E. Minnesota Commercial Railway: They want to give all but the easternmost 300’ of their tracks in Charles Street to the City, or remove them from the street if the City does not want to accept them as is.

F. JFS Railcar, Inc.: Of the two vendors of used railroad rolling stock that have been contacted, this is the one that has provided the most comprehensive information about the work and costs involved in bringing used railroad cars up to the standard where they can be transported over existing rail lines. They have an adequate inventory and, pending a more thorough review of other vendors, are the most likely supplier of the used passenger cars, cabooses, and dining cars for The Art Train.

G. An unidentified developer: A developer will be selected through a competitive Request for Proposals process. Because this is an unconventional development project, the non-profit or for-profit developer selected will need to have a wider range of technical expertise, imagination, and enthusiasm than a conventional developer.

H. Food Truck Vendors: Instead of being leased to a single operator, the caboose or dining car could become the location for a rotating cycle of food truck vendors, which are growing into a sizeable cottage industry, to give them wider exposure to a regional marketplace.

I. Craig Blakely’s role: His most effective role would be as a part time paid consultant acting as a bridge between the St. Paul Foundation, the grant recipient, and the developer.

adam gott said: nicely said Adam Gottbetter attorney about this Competition Entry. - 924 days ago read more >
llhjl hlhj said: A train can make the travel time more fast because there is no traffic. - James Cullem about this Competition Entry. - 949 days ago read more >
Jeff roders said: As always abc article always try to enhance your knowledge as in latest article you will learn how to speak fluent english which will ... about this Competition Entry. - 1054 days ago read more >
Oscar Lund said: Great Idea...You are going to win! How about partnering with other Saint Paul Organizations and Entities interested in our Railroad ... about this Competition Entry. - 1124 days ago read more >
Amy Kaufman said: After watching the video about the Art Train it helped me understand this idea. Way to think outside of the box. I think this idea has ... about this Competition Entry. - 1127 days ago read more >
Ken Klein said: Great idea. Could likely garner a DOT demonstration grant... a model for other cities.. could bring vaccination clinics, bookmobiles, ... about this Competition Entry. - 1129 days ago read more >
Amy Sparks said: I'm excited about the Art Train because it provides a great place for new creative enterprises. The industrial area around Raymond and ... about this Competition Entry. - 1136 days ago read more >
Monica Lee said: I love the idea, Craig! Congratulations on being a finalist, I really hope the idea and plan goes through. I'll do my best to spread the ... about this Competition Entry. - 1136 days ago read more >
Vixai Tshajmeej said: I think the idea of reuse and recycle old train for better use for economic redevelopment far outweighs the cost of laying waste. I ... about this Competition Entry. - 1137 days ago read more >
jon schumacher said: There are districts in St. Paul where industrial zoning is critical and property values high. The Art Train idea is well-suited to ... about this Competition Entry. - 1138 days ago read more >