Movement grows to rebrand St. Paul neighborhood 'Little Africa'

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The St. Paul Pioneer Press examines the issue of "cultural branding" along the new light-rail corridor in St. Paul, where the new Green Line train route promises to reshape University Avenue-area commerce and residential life in the years to come.

A "critical mass" of African organizations is starting to market a stretch along busy Snelling Avenue radiating from LaFond Avenue, just north of the University Avenue corridor, as "Little Africa" – a dining and shopping destination for both immigrants and non-immigrants, the newspaper reports.

A launch party event for the rebranding effort is scheduled for Thursday night at the East African-themed Snelling Cafe. Among those in attendance will be Bruce Corrie, a business professor at Concordia University in St. Paul, who has been studying the economic potential of the metro's immigrants and ethnic businesses, and who says the makings of "Little Africa" are already there, the Pioneer Press reports. Based in part on his research, the Asian Economic Development Association branded a five-block stretch of businesses on University Avenue in St. Paul as "Little Mekong," the newspaper notes.

It's hard to gauge whether the name would stick. The Pioneer Press notes that also in "Little Africa" are several Korean businesses, and nearby are the Turf Club bar, and a clutch of big-box retailers, including a Walmart, Target and T.J. Maxx.

The rebranding movement is just one part of a broader effort to promote businesses along the Green Line.

The future of the Green Line corridor has been the subject of much debate and speculation since the train project was in its early stages. A number of businesses could not weather the disruptive rail construction. Between the time that construction began on University Avenue in March 2011 and July 2013, about 110 business closed or moved off the light-rail route, but about 140 opened, MPR News reported.

Building permits have been up along the St. Paul stretch of the route that will connect the Twin Cities' downtowns when trains begin rolling in mid-2014. The permits in St. Paul in 2013 point to $143 million in construction activity, which is a five-year high, the Pioneer Press reported in September.

Corridor business owners are now gearing up for a revival, the Star Tribune recently reported.

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