University Avenue businesses celebrate end of construction - New York News

University Avenue businesses celebrate end of construction

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

It's certainly been a mess for businesses and residents along the central corridor light rail construction, with cars and businesses cut off by the project. Now that the end is nigh, the community is celebrating.

Open Streets was a taste of what many hope will come to be when the light rail trains start passing up and down the tracks.

Metro Transit's new Green Line has been under construction for the past few years, and the shops that survived the disruption are now free and clear. That's got many business owners and residents feeling festive and more optimistic than ever.

The owners of the Flamingo Restaurant quickly created a curious crowd by demonstrating how coffee is made in east Africa. Fre Haile and Shegitu Kebede are both single mothers and refugees from Ethiopia. They opened their restaurant just feet away from University Avenue four years ago.

The journey has been a bumpy one since. The first year, a power surge struck and they nearly closed the restaurant. Then the construction came, and the two wondered whether the eatery would survive.

It's safe to say that all the 1,400 businesses along the 11.2 mile corridor struggled during the construction, which began in March 2011. The Metropolitan Council said 90 closed and several dozen moved, but 122 new ones have opened.

In many ways, the struggle has brought the business community, and their loyal customers, closer. That has the owners of the Flamingo feeling stronger than they did before.

"When you are a refugee, you have no sense of belonging," Kebede explained. "But when you see a sense of community coming together and saying, 'You belong to me. I want to help support you' -- that is something that makes you stand on your own two feet. Minnesota has been a home for us."

As of Sunday, the project is now 96 percent complete. All that remains is testing, which could bring light rail trains and new customers by July of next year.

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