A comeback on University Avenue: Prospect Park hosts “welcome back” event for customers as heavy light-rail construction concludes

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When Central Corridor light-rail construction began along University Avenue in 2011, city officials warned the Textile Center that their business would see a 30 to 50 percent drop in foot traffic.

They were right.

For the Center and other businesses along the Central Corridor line, construction has brought detours, parking headaches and a dip in business. As heavy construction wraps up, these businesses sought a comeback with their Return to the Avenue sales event Saturday.

“We’re just trying to reacquaint everyone with the local business,” said Will Oberly, who helped organize the event for the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association.

Locally owned bakery Cupcake gave discounts on boxed baked goods, and even Seeley Legal Services offered free 20 minute consultation sessions to customers exploring the newly re-opened area of University Avenue.

Oberly said the event focused on getting foot traffic back to businesses that have suffered from the lack of pedestrian access or parking during construction.

Return to the Avenue is one of several events aimed at reinvigorating businesses affected by the light-rail construction. On Nov. 24 Metro Transit offered free bus passes for shoppers heading to the area.

Art and Architecture weathered the construction because of significant purchases by loyal customers, said manager Greg Gilquist. But he said the antique store lost casual shoppers, who weren’t stopping in to browse during construction.

Gilquist said it was disheartening to see construction activity outside his storefront windows but few customers inside.

“It really affected our psyche as a business,” Gilquist said.

Breanna Hohman and her daughter Camille try on bracelets at Art and Architecture on Saturday in Minneapolis.

Seven business owners offered discounts or promotions Saturday. There were nine participants in the event overall, fewer than half of the businesses in the area.

Four Star Auto owner Brian Fautch said Friday he hadn’t heard of the event.

Still, Fautch said he’s lost 10 to 15 percent of his business and still struggles to get customers in the door.

To cope with traffic snarls caused by the light-rail construction, Fautch had to use his lighted sign to direct people to his business instead of advertising specials.

“This year it was just terrible,” he said.

Fautch said he is worried that his garage will continue to suffer despite the end of heavy construction because University Avenue will be less drivable when the light rail is finished, he said.

“It will never get back to the way it was,” he said. “We’ll always be low on traffic count in front of our business.”

Jenny Jones of the Textile Center said she is more optimistic about business picking back up and is appreciative of PPERRIA’s work with local businesses through events like Return to the Avenue.

“Now that the avenue is opening up, hopefully that’s going to help,” she said. “I think it’s great the neighborhood is always very supportive.”