If the proposed reconstruction plan for Hennepin Ave. passes, Kristin Traynor says The Corner Balloon Shoppe will be moving from 2455 Hennepin Ave.
“I have an extremely diverse group of customers who drive, and like the fact that they can usually find free parking right by my front door,” said Traynor. “This includes suburban moms who come in with three little ones in tow, elderly citizens who have trouble walking and first-time customers (who often become regulars) that say they were just driving by and decided to pull over and check out our Shoppe.”
Traynor is part of an organized effort by the Uptown Association and Citizens Against South Hennepin Reconstruction Proposed Design coalition to see a different design. Like others, she questions putting bike lanes on Hennepin. “I’m not sure why we need bike lanes on every street in the city. There are side streets flanking Hennepin on both sides,” observed Traynor. “To make such a concession to a small population at the expense of small business just seems ridiculous to me.”
‘AGGRESSIVELY INDIFFERENT’ TO BUSINESSES
“The new plan is aggressively indifferent to the needs of businesses,” said Amazing Thailand (3024 Hennepin Ave.) general manager Korawan Muangmode. “We’ve already seen dozens of businesses leave our block, and the new plan will continue to drive away business from Uptown and Minneapolis.”
She pointed to the loss of Dogwood Coffee Bar, Francesca’s, North Face, Columbia, Apple, Timberland and Victoria’s Secret on the block of Hennepin between W. Lake St. and W. 31st St. Their section of Hennepin Ave. was part of the first phase of the reconstruction project between Lake and 36th streets that was completed in November 2018. The $7.5 million construction project included widening the sidewalks by about six feet, and installing bike lanes on each side of the street. On-street parking between Lake and 31st and the west side of Hennepin between 31st and 36th was eliminated.
“The Hennepin reconstruction has been extremely inconvenient for us,” stated Muangmode. “By removing parking from both sides, it creates a challenge for elderly customers, disabled customers, and families with young children. It’s also been difficult for access for pickup and deliveries, a sizable part of our revenue.
“We have had to reroute deliveries to come to the back alley, which is crowded with apartments and can be unsafe for customers. We have fewer customers coming to dine-in from out of town.”
Amazing Thailand was opened 15 years ago by a Thai immigrant family. “We are proud to serve our community and host Thai cultural events, but it’s difficult to remain devoted to the city when our needs are continuously ignored,” said Muangmode, who is also the president of the Thai Cultural Council of Minnesota and director of the Wat Promwachirayan temple.
“The construction doesn’t meet community and business needs. We need some parking and access for customers to sustain our business in Uptown.”
“The first phase from 36th to Lake is a complete disaster,” agreed Uptown Association Executive Director Jill Osiecki. The business association has collected 1,500 signatures on a petition against the proposed extension of the changes to Hennepin Ave. north of Lagoon.
“It will decimate Uptown,” stated Osiecki. “It will take away every single parking space on Hennepin from 31st to Franklin.”
‘CASE AGAINST IS STRONGER’
The Uptown Association has a detailed page on its website listing why it is against the proposed design. From there:
• City staff has gone on record saying that the Phase One it implemented on Hennepin south of Lake “didn’t work well,” but the proposed alignment looks remarkably similar to that one and will likely repeat the same failures. Pure and simple, it’s terrible urban design.
• Since it’s unclear at this time how the impact of the pandemic is going to impact transit use and commuting patterns, we feel that committing to permanent bus lanes in this plan could be a mistake. More time and consideration must be allocated to study what commuting will be in the “new normal.”
• This design also doesn’t acknowledge how the pandemic has also changed how many retailers work. Many of them have embraced online channels, resulting in more need for FedEx pickup/dropoff, DoorDash, etc. This design completely ignores the newly emerging importance of logistics to making small retail work in a world where a retailer has to have as many revenue channels as possible to compete against corporations like Amazon, Target, Wal-mart, etc to survive. And, of course, it doesn’t acknowledge the importance of parking in the customer experience and how customers perceive and ultimately decide where to shop.
• We can accommodate any increased cycling by putting more bike racks down and perhaps other more lean/modular options than full-on bike lanes on both sides of the street. Cyclists are important, but it is critical that their demands are proportionate to other needs, such as accessibility and green space.
• MNDOT just complete a multi-year project to improve the Hennepin access to I-94 and I-35W. As such, Hennepin will continue to be necessary thoroughfare for vehicle traffic going to and from the freeway system. It would be both foolish and wasteful to have capital projects that seem to be at such odds with each other, as the Hennepin and MNDOT plans appear to be. Common sense must prevail.
• While Uptown businesses pay some of the highest property taxes in Minneapolis, there are other areas in the last decade that have replaced it as the “hot” commercial district (North Loop, 50th/France, Northeast to some extent), and the city has enacted many policies in Uptown (the “red carpet” temporary bus lanes, abruptly increased metered parking costs, the failed South Hennepin redesign, to name a few) without accounting for how these changes have affected small businesses, visitor patterns, and more. Uptown needs to be more thoughtfully engaged, rather than just being a playground for planner trends.
• Today, Hennepin serves as not only a corridor for travel, but also a node for over 150 businesses along the street. Many of these businesses utilize the on-street parking to load and unload important deliveries (including DoorDash, Lyft, Uber, etc.), perform curbside interactions with customers and other business-related tasks, easily accommodate people with disabilities and elderly visitors, and of course, are utilized by customers.
The city conducted a parking study in March of 2018, which was historically a very quiet time in Uptown, according to the Uptown Association.
“Off-street parking was counted in this study. The reality is that off street parking is rarely available to all, typically being limited to private business or apartment-specific parking. The only true public parking available is within several public lots and ramps all located in one block. For some businesses to access those lots and ramps are over a mile away, and the hourly costs are significant. ...
“Your voice matters! Independent businesses are the backbone of a vibrant Uptown community where residents want to live, work and play, and your support is needed for the success of the community. We need businesses and residents to speak up, and all concerns to be heard.”
‘END OF OUR BUSINESS’
“After a pandemic, I don’t know how the city expects businesses to make it through the construction, only to be left with a street that does not make stopping at the businesses easy, practical or even possible for some people,” remarked Jessica Burge of The Cafe Meow (2323 Hennepin Ave. S.).
“The new plan deems Hennepin a ‘pass through’ and that is how I would describe their plan. Those are the same words that public works has to describe the project.”
She added, “I worry about other women, like myself, feeling safe driving in to visit only to park blocks away on the residential streets, especially at night. I worry about the groups we get in from group homes to come visit the cats will not be able to visit anymore. I worry my delivery people who already have trouble will no longer be able to make their deliveries. I am worried about the people arriving via bus as they get dropped off and have to cross the bike lane, which seems a challenge for them and bikers. I worry this will cause some accidents. I worry that the removal of the cute light posts that get decorated each year for large highway type lighting only encourages this ‘pass through’ feel.”
She appreciates the pedestrian bump-outs at the corners and thinks that will help with pedestrian safety.
Overall, she believes the current plan will hurt Uptown. Instead, she would like to see “a concept that truly considers the businesses and their needs as well as public safety. Downtown there are street parking, bike lanes, and car lanes. I have to believe it is possible to do that as well on Hennepin.”
According to Burge, “We do not have a back door with parking nearby for deliveries and many customers utilize the parking out front for many reasons. With more than half our customers coming from outside of Minneapolis that parking is needed. Many of the locals within Minneapolis also drive and stop in on their way elsewhere, some need to drive and have close parking to their destination for accessibility or safety reasons. ...
“The loss of parking both across the street, going south on Hennepin and in front of our business going north on Hennepin will be the end of our business on Hennepin.”
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