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Light Rail Construction Kills Man's Restaurant Dream

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- A St. Paul restaurant owner says he's been forced to close down for good.

He blames light rail construction on University Avenue for driving away more than half his customers. Other businesses in the area said they've also suffered in the last several months.

Tony Panelli will close Caribe Caribbean Bistro after brunch on Sunday. He opened the restaurant exactly two years ago Saturday. He called his restaurant a dream come true. But he says construction just a block away from his kitchen killed his dream.

"It's always what I wanted to do, have my own restaurant," Panelli said.

He said the challenges of light rail construction came as a total surprise to him.

Panelli says he's lost thousands of dollars. Before the construction, Panelli said he would make $1,200 in food sales. Now he says he's lucky to do $500.

"I have enough regular customers that tell me they don't want to come down here," he said. "Traffic is brutal, absolutely brutal."

A spokesperson for light rail construction said it's made several efforts to promote the businesses along the corridor, including Caribe. It was highlighted on Metropolitan Council's Project Newsletter last June and later in a weekly construction update.

Spokesperson Laura Baenen also released a statement saying that "more business have opened than closed along the Central Corridor since construction began in March 2011." She said 61 businesses have opened, while 55 have closed.

But that doesn't do much to reassure Panelli.

"I'm disappointed with the state," he said.

He admits that he knew light rail construction would happen, but never realized it would send Caribe on a destination to disaster.

But there is still hope, Panelli said.

He and his wife renovated their current building, and they hope to do the same at a northeast Minneapolis location, keeping their restaurant dream alive.

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