An old form of transportation may soon be brought back into the future if the Minneapolis City Council votes to redirect millions in property taxes to build a streetcar line along Nicollet and Central avenues.
On Tuesday, city leaders and members of the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the issue. If approved, the streetcar project will be set in motion -- but critics want to make sure taxpayers don't' end up getting taken for a ride.
Taking a trip on the antique street car near Lake Harriet is like taking a step back in time.
"My grandfather was a conductor and motorman for 30 years," recalled Mike Baldwin.
Baldwin said he can remember a time when he took streetcars all over the city.
"The noise and the people, it used to be really crowded," he said.
For the first half of the last century, streetcars were the main mode of transportation in Minneapolis. Now, Baldwin is excited about the possibility of bringing back that form of mass transit to a modernized downtown.
"I think it's an excellent idea," he said.
From the K-Mart on Lake Street to Kramarchek's in northeast, the streetcars could give residents and tourists a new way to travel.
"We need to fit 100,000 more people into the city but we don't want all that traffic," explained Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak. "So, we put a streetcar line in, we get redevelopment, make neighborhoods more exciting and keep cars off the streets."
The city wants to pay for its portion of the project's $200-million price tag by using property tax revenue from several new high rises going up downtown, but critics like former City Councilman Paul Ostrow say it's fiscally irresponsible to divert $5 million a year from the city's general fund, which is the same pool that pays for police and fire services.
"The best way to keep property taxes from going up is to grow the city," Ostrow argued. "If every time we get new development we divert all those property taxes and put them into some pet project, everyone's property taxes will go up a lot."
Yet, Baldwin said he doesn't care how they pay for it. He just wants to get streetcars back on track.
"It's romantic, efficient, non-polluting -- it's a great form of transportation," he argued.
The city's transportation and budget committees will hear from the public on Tuesday and then vote on whether to create a "value capture district" to pay for the streetcar line. If it passes, the City Council must then vote on where the line will run and how far it will go in September.