Tunheim, Cook Hill to promote MN rail line

ST. PAUL, MN: The St. Paul Chamber of Commerce has hired Tunheim Partners to help promote the development of a light-rail line to link downtown Minneapolis with downtown St. Paul.

ST. PAUL, MN: The St. Paul Chamber of Commerce has hired Tunheim Partners to help promote the development of a light-rail line to link downtown Minneapolis with downtown St. Paul.

The chamber also has hired Cook Hill Girard Associates to handle lobbying for the project. Tunheim will work on public affairs, community outreach, and media relations, said Mark Andrew, SVP at Tunheim and head of its public affairs practice.

The chamber has initially budgeted $260,000 for the two firms, but Andrew said he expects that figure to rise as the project works its way to completion. The first effort involved in the campaign is aimed at convincing state legislators to approve $5 million for the preliminary engineering. The entire project is expected to cost $800 million, with construction possibly beginning in 2006.

Tunheim is known for its ties to the Democratic Party, while Cook Hill is known for its connection to the Republican Party, so the team feels that it is in a position to reach out to both political parties.

The line would be the second light-rail route in the area. Light-rail line systems are essentially modern versions of trolleys.

A light-rail line linking downtown Minneapolis with the city's airport and the Mall of America is scheduled to open in April.

"We'll be galvanizing neighborhood and community support," said Andrew. Key message points will include demonstrating that a light-rail line would make business sense for the area and that it also would help Minnesota as a whole by stimulating economic development in the Twin Cities.

"It's a very strong pro-business message we have," he said.

Another key message directed at state legislators is that light rail is a cheaper option for improving the area's transportation infrastructure when compared to alternatives, such as building more highways.

As the project moves forward, community outreach will address concerns of business owners and residents along the proposed route.

Tunheim is placing a four-person team headed by Andrew on the account.

Andrew served five terms as a county commissioner for Hennepin County, which encompasses Minneapolis, before joining Tunheim five years ago.

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