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Washington County backs ‘East Metro Strong’ proposal

The east metro has some of the most sought after development opportunities in the country, officials say, but is also playing catch up to some of its western counterparts.

Washington County and various parts of the east metro region are involved in a proposal that would come with $750,000 in grant money from the McKnight Foundation.

Calling it a “golden opportunity,” Ramsey County Policy Director Ryan O’Connor said it’s time to begin the planning phase that would require man power from the county, the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce, and other local government entities.

The East Metro Strong initiative is spearheaded by Ramsey County and is a part of the McKnight Foundation “moving the market” grant solicitation process.

Washington County officials were asked to support the grant application at a workshop Sept. 24, where O’Connor spoke about how transit planning can go hand-in-hand with the proposal, future development and economic development for the region.

Greg Watson, government affairs chair for the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce, said the grant proposal is to create momentum, unify the east metro’s vision for transit and development and provide opportunities for the business community to participate.

“A lot of folks moved out here for the rural aspect and we’re protective of that,” he said, but added, “good communities have good transportation. It’s time that we had ours.”

Citing the Gateway Corridor project, the opening of the St. Paul Union Depot, Watson said planning for development that would complement the overall transit vision would be beneficial.

The East Metro Strong grant would pay for the planning phase including a leadership team with representatives from local government entities and chambers of commerce.

O’Connor said the proposal also includes bringing developers together to present plans and receive input.

“You need to have separate dialogues with the experts at the table,” he said.

Washington County Board Chair Lisa Weik seemed supportive of the initiative and said transit for the east metro is at a point that Hennepin County and the west were at 10 years ago.

Now is the time to “literally connect the dots” on the transit planning map that shows dotted lines on the east metro versus solid lines on the west, she said.

O’Connor said he’s confident the group will win the grant based on preliminary interviews and meetings with the McKnight Foundation.

If East Metro Strong moves forward, Washington County will need to represent its local districts on the new committee by January.

During the three-year window of the grant, the team would set the ground work for future projects, O’Connor said.

Calling it the “new normal,” Weik said involving developers in forums like the recent Gateway Corridor developers’ forum will be key in moving the market forward in a prosperous way.

“This could be a great way to get their attention,” she said.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.