Thursday, October 20, 2005

Zone Section of University Avenue as an Ethnic Commercial Corridor

Zone Section of  University Avenue as an Ethnic Commercial Corridor

We would like University Avenue from Lexington Avenue to the State Capitol to be zoned an Ethnic Commercial Corridor and ask that specific steps be taken to develop and market this unique ethnic identity.

In our vision that segment of University Avenue will continue to be a hub for small and ethnic businesses and community organizations. What we would like to see further developed is the creation of an ‘ethnic identity’ in terms of ethnic art, street signs and banners. The area then will complement other ethnic areas in Saint Paul such as District Del Sol and Selby Avenue and could be marketed as one of the attractions of our global city.

We do not see the choice of Big Box versus small businesses or community on the avenue, rather we can see opportunities for both enhancing the avenue.  Big Box developments could take place on other stretches of the avenue and would be encouraged to play a supportive role in developing the ethnic infrastructure and marketing of the Ethnic corridor segment of the avenue.

Having studied the six block stretch on University Avenue from Dale to Farrington earlier this year, we find our suggestion to be of great merit to the city.

In 1997, David Kaplan documented the growth in the avenue in an article published in the journal Economic Geography. Integrating data from various sources he documented the growth and development of Asian owned businesses on a 6 block stretch from Dale to Farrington from 1981 to 1991. The growth in the avenue paralleled the arrival of Southeast Asian refugees to Minnesota and Saint Paul. In 1999, Saint Paul Pioneer Press reporter Brian Bonner did an extensive and detailed map of businesses on 17 blocks on University Avenue.

We and other students in our Microeconomics class decided to update the above reports of the avenue and provide a contemporary perspective on the 6 block stretch from Dale to Farrington. The advantage of focusing on just the 6 block stretch on the avenue was the presence of comparable data going back to 1981 that could illustrate the dynamic energy on the avenue.

Our study showed that Asian businesses grew from 2 percent of all businesses on the six block stretch of the avenue in 1981 to 39 percent in 1991 to 67 percent in 2005.

These ethnic businesses have put in their own equity, for the most part, in developing the avenue. They converted run down and boarded buildings into what have now become thriving businesses. We want to focus on the social equity that they have put into the business as the basis for our proposal to market and develop it as an ethnic commercial corridor.

These ethnic businesses by being successful have also increased property values on the entire avenue. Now it is the turn of those who want to locate big box developments on the avenue to pay their dues. By facilitating the development and marketing of the ethnic corridor on University Avenue they will repay the social equity invested by the ethnic communities around the avenue. In the process they will also help their own businesses prosper by tapping into the ethnic customer base that frequents the avenue. This is the win-win situation for all.

Critics of the Big Box developments will find in our proposal a healthy compromise that will be good for all: jobs as well as the small and ethnic businesses as well as the residents of the neighborhoods around the avenue.

The economic paybacks of such a decision are tremendous. Among the many benefits of having a declared ethnic commercial corridor are the following:

  • Increase in the number of ethnic business locating on and around the avenue, such as is occurring in the Frog Town area.

  • Encouraging more business to business and business to community networks as mainstream businesses realize the potential of the ethnic markets.

  • A living vibrant example of people achieving the American dream.

  • It helps change negative stereotypes of immigrants and vividly illustrates their economic contributions to society.

  • Saint Paul can effectively market its multi ethnic capital which is a big draw for the visitor and convention business.

University Avenue is a living example of the American dream. It is time to celebrate this identity in a strategic way.

Bruce Corrie is Professor of Economics and Grant Meyer, Xieng Thor, and Sherri Volkert are undergraduate students in the Department of Business at Concordia University, Saint Paul. Corrie can be reached at

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