Consultants brainstorm on bringing customers back to Central Corridor

Monday, October 17, 2011

Consultants hired by Public Art St. Paul to help write the Central Corridor public art plan acknowledge that their methods are unproven. But when it comes to bringing people back to businesses and neighborhoods suffering through four years of track, station and road construction, the solutions may depend more on art than science.

Whether these outposts or an art-inspired commercial growth spurt will draw traffic and income to the area is impossible to know. Mel Gray, a professor of economics at the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas, said no reliable study of the economic effect of public art has ever been produced.

While he thinks public art efforts can redirect traffic to a particular area, it will come at a cost to other areas.

“When people come to see a linear neighborhood like the Central Corridor, that’s not a bad thing,” Gray said. “But we have to keep in mind that they’re choosing to not do something else.”

Gray said it is rare for an area-specific arts effort to rise above the profile of a major public project like the Central Corridor light rail line. He said a unique example of this happening is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, which put an otherwise unremarkable city on the world tourism map. The challenge in the Central Corridor, he said, is to make the art more of a destination than the train stations.

“The transportation mechanism is going to be so much bigger, the art is going to get swamped,” he said.

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Originally published: 10/17/2011, Finance and Commerce